In as much as sin through the paralysis of human freedom engenders personal sinfulness, this latter can be weakened to a minimum and even brought down to the condition of full potentiality: posse non peccare (though before redemption and before baptism the condition of non posse peccare cannot be reached). To be sure, such a maximum achievement is unthinkable for fallen humanity without the help of Divine grace which, however, only assists freedom and does not compel it. In other words, when original sin as infirmity is kept in force, personal freedom from sins or personal sinlessness can be realized by the grace of God. In harmony with the firm and clear consciousness of the Church, John the Forerunner already approaches such personal sinlessness. The most holy Virgin Mary, the all-pure and all-immaculate, possesses such sinlessness. Only by virtue of this sinlessness was she able to say with her entire will, with her whole undivided essence, behold the handmaid of the Lord, to speak so that the answer to this full self-giving to God was the descent of the Holy Spirit and the seedless conception of the Lord Jesus Christ. The smallest sin in the past or the present would have broken the integrity of this self-giving and the power of this expression. This word, decisive for the whole human race and the entire world, was the expression not of a given moment only, but came out of the depths of Mary’s unblemished being. It was the work and the sum of her life. The inadmissibility of personal sin in the Virgin Mary thus becomes axiomatically trustworthy provided we understand what kind of answer was demanded here of Mary. This was not the particular agreement of her will to a particular action, relating only to a given moment of life; no, this was the self-determination of her entire being.
Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush
Father Sergius and I share a similar concern about the Immaculate Conception: “before redemption and before baptism the condition of non posse peccare cannot be reached” in other words the Passion of Jesus Christ does not reach back through time to apply the grace wrought there to the moment of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Conception. It cannot, and I dare say, did not. Our lives and our redemption occurs in this life which is bound and limited by time. To be sure God is not bound and limited by time, but we are and they way in which we can receive divine grace is likewise limited. God’s timelessness does not free us from the bonds of time. The division creature – Creator is not overcome and abolished. Whatever else the “Immaculate Conception” means it cannot mean that “baptismal or sanctifying grace” was applied to Mary before such grace even existed for human beings to receive.
The Anglican Breviary – without using the Papal Bull – teaches the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as it was understood by Pope Pius IX but the Anglican Breviary does not make the doctrine binding. Instead the doctrine is contained as a pious opinion (see p. E36, Lesson V). As such it does not pose a problem to me, nor should it to any Anglican Catholic. The Pius IX understanding of the Immaculate Conception is not binding and other interpretations are open to us. In my understanding of the doctrine the B.V.M. was endowed with the grace necessary to be the Mother of God which is a unique grace not given to any other being. This grace is the reason to describe her very conception as immaculate. Not that the B.V.M. “at the moment of her conception was by a unique privilege from God preserved pure from every taint of original sin” (as Pope Pius IX would have us believe) but in such a way that at the moment of her conception was by a unique privilege from God given grace to be the Mother of God wherefore in comparison to the conception of all other human beings hers is accompanied by a grace so unique that it is appropriately described as immaculate. To some the grace necessary to be the Mother of God necessitates the interpretation Pope Pius IX gave to the Immaculate Conception, to me and many others it does not. Even if we accept the apparition of the B.V.M. to St. Bernadette as genuine (which I tend to do) the apparition is not part of the deposit of the faith. Such apparitions are always to be distinguished from revelation as given in Scripture, apparitions are judged in the light of Scripture (and tradition / Rule of Faith) but not the other way around. I do believe that even the Vatican does not bestow dogmatic authority on “visions” and “apparitions” even the ones it approves as genuine.