I'm feeling much better today, so it's back to work for me! I'm shocked to see how much I posted yesterday. They put a lot of stimulants in that cold medicine, that's all I can say.
Tonight is the vigil Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception tomorrow. It's a Holy Day of Obligation here in the US, since Mary as the Immaculate Conception is the patron saint of the United States. (Ironic for a country with as much abortion as we have, ne?) The feast was only instituted in 1798, so it's very fitting to associate it with our country. It would also be fitting not to rip on France today and tomorrow. After all, when Our Lady appeared at Lourdes, she told St. Bernadette "I am the Immaculate Conception."
The idea behind the whole feast is to remind folks of the doctrines behind it. Jesus was the New Adam, as St. Paul pointed out, free from all sin including the original sin that came from Adam. To facilitate that last, Catholics believe that God chose to cleanse Mary of original sin from the very moment of her conception, thus making her a fitting New Eve.
Which only makes sense, because if you're going to use a person as the new Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant, it would probably be a good thing if the person was totally spotless. (Think of all the nasty things that happened in the Old Testament to priests who were deep in sin and approached the Lord, or who weren't ritually clean. You wouldn't want that stuff to happen to a pregnant lady, especially if she were your mother.)
Beyond that, it's just nice that God, through Mary, gave humanity another chance to try to live sinless, using free will to make good choices instead of bad ones. We believe that, with the help of the Father and the Holy Spirit (and of course, Her Son's death and resurrection, acting retroactively), that Mary did manage to live her life totally without sin. She was an ordinary woman living in the ordinary world, not in the Garden of Eden. Yet, she managed what Adam and Eve could not, because she loved and obeyed God.
Now, no doubt God could have done things a different way. But we don't think He did. If God wants to create a new start for humanity, He can do it any time He figures it's a good idea. And if God wants essentially to baptize someone at the moment sperm hits egg, this isn't any odder than God providing a "baptism of desire" to someone at the very moment of their death. God can work outside the normal rules for the Sacraments whenever God feels like it, because God made the rules. He has planned for such things from the beginning.
If you missed out on the link to that gorgeous picture of Mary as a baby inside St. Anne that I linked to yesterday, here's Jean Bellegambe's picture of "St. Anne's Conception of Mary".