Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! Over at First Things, David Mills has an excellent column on just what this doctrine means, why we believe it, and why it so confuses our Protestant brothers and sisters:
[Mary] is, [Pope Pius IX] wrote, “far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity.” Because God did this for her—because God did it—Mary, “ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity.” . . .
Pius’s argument, such as it is, does not satisfy Protestants, who ask, and quite rightly given their beliefs, “Just where is this in Scripture?” It looks to them as if the Catholic Church is rationalizing a doctrine that had grown too big to fail. They can understand how the Catholic might get from Jesus’ statements at the Last Supper to a belief in Transubstantiation, but not how he can get from apparently no evidence whatsoever to the Immaculate Conception. That doesn’t look like a stretch but an invention. . . .
All the dogma does, Pius might have said, is put into a shorter and more precise form the understanding of Mary that had been percolating in and shaping the Church’s thinking since the beginning of her life.
You have to read the whole thing to see how that understanding developed through the centuries, and why it is as natural as “the development of the way the Church understands Jesus” — though it may still bewilder some Evangelical Christians. Meanwhile, praise God for the gift of this beautiful feast!