Mary Was Free From All Personal Sin

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

The special privilege by which Mary persevered in holiness throughout her earthly life invites us to contemplate her sublime growth in faith and love

The doctrine of Mary's perfect holiness was the subject of the Holy Father's catechesis at the General Audience of Wednesday, 19 June. This truth asserts "that Mary, free from original sin, was also preserved from all actual sin and that this initial holiness was granted to her in order to fill her entire life", the Pope said. Here is a translation of his catechesis, which was the 24th in the series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in Italian.

1. The definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception directly concerns only the first moment of Mary's existence, from when she was "preserved free from every stain of original sin". The papal Magisterium thus wished to define only the truth which had been the subject of controversy down the centuries: her preservation from original sin, and was not concerned with defining the lasting holiness of the Lord's Virgin Mother.

This truth already belongs to the common awareness of the Christian people. It testifies that Mary, free from original sin, was also preserved from all actual sin and that this initial holiness was granted to her in order to fill her entire life.

No sin or imperfection can be attributed to Mary

2. The Church has constantly regarded Mary as holy and free from all sin or moral imperfection. The Council of Trent expresses this conviction, affirming that no one "can avoid all sins, even venial sins, throughout his life, unless he is given a special privilege, as the Church holds with regard to the Blessed Virgin" (DS 1573). Even the Christian transformed and renewed by grace is not spared the possibility of sinning. Grace does not preserve him from all sin throughout his whole fife, unless, as the Council of Trent asserts, a special privilege guarantees this immunity from sin. And this is what happened with Mary.

The Council of Trent did not wish to define this privilege but stated that the Church vigorously affirms it: "Tenet", that is, she firmly holds it. This is a decision which, far from relegating this truth to pious belief or devotional opinion, confirms its nature as a solid doctrine, quite present in the faith of the People of God. Moreover, this conviction is based on the grace attributed to Mary by the angel at the time of the Annuncation. Calling her "full of grace", kecharitoméne,the angel acknowledged her as the woman endowed with a lasting perfection and a fullness of sanctity, without shadow of sin or of moral or spiritual imperfection.

3. Several early Fathers of the Church, who were not yet convinced of her perfect holiness, attributed imperfections or moral defects to Mary. Some recent authors have taken the same position. However, the Gospel texts cited to justify these opinions provide no basis at all for attributing a sin or even a moral imperfection to the Mother of the Redeemer.

Jesus's reply to his mother at the age of 12: "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Lk 2:49), has sometimes been interpreted as a veiled rebuke. A careful reading of the episode, however, shows that Jesus did not rebuke his mother and Joseph for seeking him, since they were responsible for looking after him.

Coming upon Jesus after an anxious search, Mary asked him only the "why" of his behaviour: "Son, why have you treated us so?" (Lk 2:48). And Jesus answers with another "why", refraining from any rebuke and referring to the mystery of his divine sonship.

Nor can the words he spoke at Cana: "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come" (Jn 2: 4), be interpreted as a rebuke. Seeing the likely inconvenience which the lack of wine would have caused the bride and groom, Mary speaks to Jesus with simplicity, entrusting the problem to him. Though aware of being the Messiah bound to obey the Father's will alone, he answers the Mother's implicit request. He responds above all to the Virgin's faith and thus performs the first of his miracles, thereby manifesting his glory.

4. Later some gave a negative interpretation to the statement Jesus made when, at the beginning of his public life, Mary and his relatives asked to see him. Relating to us Jesus' reply to the one who said to him: "Your mother and your brethren are standing outside, desiring to see you", the Evangelist Luke offers us the interpretive key to the account, which must be understood on the basis of Mary's inner inclinations, which were quite different from those of his "brethren" (cf. Jn 7:5). Jesus replied: "My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Lk 8:21). In the Annunciation account, Luke in fact showed how Mary was the model of listening to the word of God and of generous docility. Interpreted in this perspective, the episode offers great praise of Mary, who perfectly fulfilled the divine plan in her own life. Although Jesus' words are opposed to the brethren's attempt, they exalt Mary's fidelity to the will of God and the greatness of her motherhood, which she lived not only physically but also spiritually.

In expressing this indirect praise, Jesus uses a particular method: he stresses the nobility of Mary's conduct in the light of more general statements, and shows more clearly the Virgin's solidarity with and closeness to humanity on the difficult way of holiness.

Lastly, the words: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Lk 11:28), spoken by Jesus in reply to the woman who had called his Mother blessed, far from putting into doubt Mary's personal perfection, bring out her faithful fulfilment of the word of God: so has the Church understood them, putting this sentence into the liturgical celebrations in Mary's honour. The Gospel text actually suggests that he made this statement to reveal that the highest reason for his Mother's blessedness lies precisely in her intimate union with God and her perfect submission to the divine word.

Mary belonged completely to the Lord

5. The special privilege granted by God to her who is "all holy" leads us to admire the marvels accomplished by grace in her life. It also reminds us that Mary belonged always and completely to the Lord, and that no imperfection harmed her perfect harmony with God.

Her earthly life was therefore marked by a constant, sublime growth in faith, hope and charity. For believers, Mary is thus the radiant sign of divine Mercy and the sure guide to the loftiest heights of holiness and Gospel perfection.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
26 June 1996, page 11

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