[quote=rr1213]I had a respectable understanding of Catholic teaching, but this one caught me totally, absolutely off-guard. It is a matter of faith to me that only one human being, Jesus himself, is without sin. Tempted in all ways, yet still without sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, except for Christ. If this is true, as I believe it is, then to say that Mary was without sin is a very serious contradiction.
And here, I believe, is the difficulty, so I’ll just respond to this part of your post.
At one time I too thought along these lines, and with good reason. I had been told/believed that Jesus must have been the only human being to have been without sin. And, the verse you cited from Romans would seem to support that idea. But, even the verse from Romans doesn’t say anything at all about Jesus’ sinlessness or any other individual, does it?
Paul, in the passage in Romans from which this verse is taken, isn’t addressing the idea of individual sinfulness. He had been discussing the Hebrews’ idea that they, being the children of Abraham, were without sin because they had the Law of Moses. Paul was saying that pagans and Hebrews alike are guilty of sin and in need of the gift of salvation.
It is a serious mistake for anyone to read into verses things they were not written to address. This is a literalistic reading not the literal one. Indeed, the literal reading is the one I described because that is what Paul was discussing. If it wasn’t what Paul was saying, then even Jesus would have to be guilty of sin, if the word “all” were meant to be read literalistically, as many Evangelicals read it.
This being the case, is it unreasonable that the Second Eve, the Mother of God, the Mother of all those who are living in Christ, should be sinless? No, it isn’t. Eve brought sin into the world and through Adam and Eve all humankind fell. The consequences of that great wound at still with us, Christian and non-Christian alike. God chose Mary from all eternity to be the Mother of his Son. We know this because Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were ordained from all eternity.
It is also only reasonable that his Mother would be all that a Second Eve should be–conceived without sin and sinless in her life due to the redemptive act of her Son, not solely to her own merit. She had no concupiscence/desire to sin, because she was ordained to be the Second Eve, the Mother of the Redeemed, as Jesus is the Second Adam, the Father of Redeemed Humanity.