The Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the conception of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. It refers to the Catholic dogma that Mary, though she was conceived naturally, was conceived without original sin. Mary was therefore in a state of grace from the first moment of her conception. Related to this is the Catholic belief in Mary's perpetual sinlessness, which holds that Mary, besides being preserved from original sin, did not commit any actual sins all her life.
In Luke 1:28, the Angel Gabriel calls Mary "full of grace." This is a translation of the Greek kecharitomene, which implies a perfection of grace, meaning Mary had to have been in the state of grace at every moment of her existence, from conception onward.
Protestants object, because they say "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23), which must include Mary as well. But we know this is not exactly true. Jesus, for one, did not sin (Heb. 4:15). If the passage makes one exception in Jesus, there is no reason to think it cannot make another exception in Mary. And the exceptions do not end there. Even Protestants must admit that children who die before the age of reason have never sinned (Rom. 9:11).
So what about this passage from Romans? Either it means that all have sinned because all are under original sin, in which case, Mary could be an exception to this since Jesus Himself is an exception, or the passage refers to mankind in general. "All" cannot always be taken literally. Luke says that Zachariah and Elizabeth observed "all" the commandments and ordinances of the Lord (Luke 1:6), but most likely what Luke meant was that they were both very devout Jews who were generally very faithful, but failed to do God's will on a few occasions. After all, Paul made it clear that no one could keep the Law perfectly.
Protestants also argue that Mary even admitted she was not sinless by saying: "my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47). Only a sinner needs a Savior, they say. Yes, Mary needed a Savior, but this does not imply that Mary was not conceived without original sin. Jesus did save Mary. God applied the saving grace of Jesus, which was present to Him from all eternity, to Mary at the moment of her conception. She was saved in anticipation of Christ's merits. The man who is prevented from falling into a pit can be said to be saved from dying in the pit just as much as a man who falls into a pit and is pulled out afterwards. Mary was saved because Jesus prevented her from "falling into the pit," so to speak.
Protestants also point to Luke 2:22-24, which states that Mary went to the Temple for a childbirth purification ritual, which included a sin offering. How could Mary have been sinless all her life when she made an offering for sin? It must be remembered that Jesus was circumcised and baptized, although he had no need of spiritual cleansing (Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Rom. 2:29) or showing the world he had repented of His sins (Matt. 3:11; Acts 19:1-6). Jesus was " born under the Law" (Gal. 4:4), as was Mary, so they both submitted to the requirements of the Mosaic Law, even though they did not need to. As for Mary's supposed sinfulness, sin offerings were made after childbirth because they were ritually unclean by coming into contact with blood. Of course, being ritually unclean had nothing to do with personal sinfulness.
Protestants also use the argument that since "the sins of the fathers are visited on their children down to the fourth generation," as the Bible states, Mary could not have been sinless, since she had sinful human ancestors. As for the sins of the fathers being visited upon their children down to the fourth generation, according to this argument, Jesus would have had to be a sinner because his great grandfather (on His mother's side) was a sinner. Of course, Christ is an exception, and if there can be one exception in Christ, there is no reason why there cannot be another exception in Mary. This passage does not imply what Protestants would like it to imply.
Protestants also point to Mary's words in Luke 1:48, where she says: "for He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness." If Mary was sinless, they say, she would not have called herself lowly. But compared to God, all human beings are lowly.
Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception infallible in 1854. This is when Protestants say the doctrine was invented. Of course, the Immaculate Conception is a belief that predates 1854. That is just the year that the long-standing belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception was defined infallibly.
Origen (Homily 1 [A.D. 244]) "This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one."
Ephraem (Hymns on the Nativity,15:23 [A.D. 370]) "Let woman praise Her, the pure Mary"; (Nisibene Hymns, 27:8 [A.D. 370]) "Thou alone and thy Mother are in all things fair, there is no flaw in thee and no stain in thy Mother."
Ambrose (Sermon 22:30 [A.D. 388]) "Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin.".
Augustine (Nature and Grace, 42 , [A.D.415]) "We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin."