It's the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary! A pretty big feast in the Catholic Church. Just for you, here's what this feast does NOT mean:
It does not mean that Mary was born without her parents having sex. That was Jesus, whose conception we celebrate at the Annunciation. (Also the virgin birth does not mean Catholics think sex is bad. Quite the contrary.)
It does not mean Mary was so perfect that Jesus didn't have to save her. She was conceived in a state of grace, because Jesus saved her BEFOREHAND. That's crazy, you say? Well, since God works outside of time, he kinda isn't controlled by our conceptions of time. (I wonder whether my fascination with time travel movies and predestination are connected.)
The reason we believe she was immaculately conceived is because the bible, Tradition and reason lead us to believe so. Since she was to carry the Holiest of Holies, God Himself, she was prepared to be a holy, pure and thus worthy Tabernacle.
Here's a slightly more detailed explanation. And another one.
Sometimes Mary has seemed kind of distant and un-relatable to me. She seemed so perfect as to be devoid of any human weakness. Most of the pictures I've seen of her didn't help. She seemed distant, cold, emotionless.
But over the years, I've come to know a little of the real human and yet sinless Mary, especially when I've been struggling.
And today when I was reflecting on the Immaculate Conception, I realized something else. Sinless doesn't mean she wasn't human, or that she had no human weaknesses.
She was tired. She probably dropped things. She might have been clumsy. (Full of grace didn't mean physically graceful.) She probably had stomach aches and headaches and blisters and morning sickness. She must have laughed a lot. Maybe she was a little girl who daydreamed. She probably gazed in wonder at a beautiful sunset. She might have danced and definitely sang.
She definitely had moments where she said, "God, what are You doing? Is this really Your plan?" She must have gazed with joy at her Baby, and kissed His plump tummy. She must have thrown Him up in the air. (Or maybe she looked on smiling and half-protesting when Joseph did.) She must have mothered the neighbourhood kids too. She was ever Mother. Maybe she cooked well. Maybe she burned the food sometimes. She must have had friends, who she opened her heart to.
She said 'Yes' once at the Annunciation, but she must have had to say many more 'Yeses' every day till the end of her life. She must have cried. She must have been scared sometimes. She probably had 'up' days and 'down' days. Maybe she felt angry. (Be angry, but do not sin.) Maybe she felt hurt. Maybe some days she sang aloud as she worked.
She was a real woman, a girl who lived in the real world. She didn't sin, with the help of God's grace. All that meant is that she chose to trust Him, and to keep herself open to His grace. God gave her a special grace at the moment of her conception, and through her life she she fully accepted and embraced His gift of grace.
I didn't always realize it, but Mama Mary really is a gift not only to the Church, but to me personally. Maybe someday I'll share how.
Madonna with the Christ Child