The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary, and people are often confused about this teaching. Mary’s purity is not something God had to require for Mary, but it is fitting that He chose purity for His Mother.
Looking at Old and New Testament typology we see many “types” of Mary. Just one is Eve, mankind’s first mother, who participated in his fall. Mary is the new Eve who participates in mankind’s redemption. The Church teaches Mary was not saved out of sin but from sin. Jesus, Her Son and Savior, preserved her from falling into sin.
From Catholic Answers we find the following: An implicit reference can also be found in the angel’s greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” The phrase “full of grace” is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. This word represents the proper name of the person being addressed by the angel, and it therefore expresses a characteristic quality of Mary. Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning “to fill or endow with grace.” Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates a perfection of grace that is both intensive and extensive. This means that the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit, and was not only as “full” or strong or complete as possible at any given time, but it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence to have been called “full of grace.”
Another type of Mary is found in the Ark of the Covenant. We recall the original Ark of the Covenant was specifically built and was made of purest gold. Inside that Ark was the tablets with the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 10:3-5), an urn of manna, and the rod of Aaron the high priest (Hebrews 9:4). Mary, in her womb, carried Jesus the Word made Flesh, Jesus as Eucharist and Jesus our High Priest. Now we see why it was only fitting that God created her to be as pure.
What about the argument of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception not being defined until 1854?
Actually, dogmas are defined formally only when there is a controversy that needs to be cleared up or when the magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church) thinks the faithful can be helped by particular emphasis being drawn to some already- existing belief. The definition of the Immaculate Conception was prompted by the latter motive; it did not come about because there were widespread doubts about the doctrine. Pius IX, who was highly devoted to the Virgin, hoped the definition would inspire others in their devotion to her (Karl Keating).
Finally what did those in the early Church think about Mary? A few comments are listed below:
This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one (Homily 1 [A.D. 244]) Origen.
He [Jesus] was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle [Mary] was exempt from defilement and corruption (Orat. In Illud, Dominus pascit me, in Gallandi, Bibl. Patrum, II, 496 ante [A.D. 235]) Hippolytus.
Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin (Commentary on Psalm 118:22-30 [A.D. 387]) Ambrose of Milan.
Mary’s honor is recognized much earlier than some would have us believe. For a doctrine to be defined later doesn’t make it less of a truth. If that is the case then we would have to decline the doctrine of the Trinity, as it wasn’t defined until the fourth century.
Mary reminds to always turn to God. She reveals it best in her Magnificat by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and Holy is His Name;…”