Today is the happy 7th birthday of my son, on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Sadly, this dogma happens to be one of those things that keep Evangelical Protestants away from the Catholic faith. But it's not as incredible as they think. In fact, nothing can be simpler, because one simply has to think of Mary as the very first Christian. She was the first to be in the body of Christ, and physically more than anyone else. Her Immaculate Conception is no more (and no less) than God's gift of salvation, except that God bestows it upon her at the moment of conception. If one believes in infant baptism already (as any Christian should), as in the continuation of infant dedication and circumcision, then salvation at conception is not hard to understand. After all, it is all grace, is it not? And without any deliberate acts of sin, how can one reject grace?
No, I think what drives Evangelicals to reject the dogma, sometimes with such intensity, is a fear that it makes of Mary a deity. Nothing can be further from the truth, since what makes the conception immaculate is the grace of God. They also cannot see that celebrating Mary's blessedness is celebrating God's graciousness, at the same time proclaiming the holiness of the Incarnation of the Word. After all, anything precious must have a beautiful vessel. Being the vessel of the Word made flesh, Mary cannot be anything less than made holy -- not only declared to be holy, but truly made holy. I suppose that this, in itself, is a challenge to Protestant theology, at least for those who hold that justification is truly in declaration only, not in truth. But I've always though that, in this, their hope falls short of what our blessed hope really is. For what God declares, he does. If he declares us justified, and calls us sons and daughters at baptism, then we are not only declared holy, nor are we only perceived holy by the eternal judge: we truly are washed clean, truly made holy. God's words do not proceed from him in vain. To believe otherwise, I think, does not give the mercy of God enough credit.