As we explore Mary’s sinlessness, there is one verse in scripture that we must address. Specifically, the words are from Mary’s own mouth. Mary exclaimed to Elizabeth, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
Some will rightly raise the question, “if Mary never sinned, then why does she refer to God as her savior?” Commenting on this verse, one critic phrased the objection:
When Mary recognized God as her Savior, she also recognized that, just as any other human being, she needed salvation. If Mary lived and left this life without committing sin, it follows that she would not have needed a Savior. Why, then, did she refer to God as her “Savior”? If she was sinless, from what was she saved?1
But this objection misses the point. When Catholics say that Mary never sinned, that doesn’t mean that she didn’t need a savior. While this might sound like a contradiction, it’s not. You see, it’s plain to see that Jesus saved us from sins already committed. But that’s only part of what he came to save us from.
There are several senses in which we might understand Jesus to be Mary’s savior, but we need only look at one for now. We must understand that there is more than one way that Jesus saves. Let’s illustrate with an example.
Imagine a man walking along a leafy trail in the woods. Suddenly he steps on a pile of twigs and leaves hiding a large hole in the ground, and he falls to the bottom with a Thud! The man is stranded with a broken leg, calling for help. Several hours later, a ranger hears the man and comes to his aid. With some rope and a four-wheeler, the ranger saves the man.
This is how we usually think about Jesus saving us. Humanity is trapped in the pit of sin without any hope of getting out. But Jesus saves us from those sins.
But now imagine a different scenario. The man is walking through the woods, just one step away from falling into the pit. “Wait, stop!” yells the ranger, just in the nick of time. The man looks at the trail before him and realizes that the ranger had just saved him from falling into a massive hole in the ground.
In both cases, the ranger saved the man. But in the second example, the ranger saves the man from ever having fallen into the pit. The act was nonetheless one of salvation.
Jesus saves in much the same way. Not only does he save us from our sins actually committed, he also saves us from committing new and even worse sins.
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever (Jude 24-25).
When we say that Jesus is Mary’s savior, we understand that to mean that he saved her from sin by preserving her from it. Theologian Alan Schreck explains that “the Lord applied the grace of Jesus’ salvation to Mary in advance to prepare her for her special role in his plan.”2
The short answer is yes, Mary still needed Jesus to save her. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “the ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first instant of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ.”3 But he saved her from having ever committed a sin.
1. Pinedo, Moisés. “Was Mary Sinless?” ApologeticsPress.org. 2009. Accessed September 30, 2018. https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=2658.
2. Schreck, Alan. Catholic and Christian: an Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs. Servant Books, 2004, pp. 192.
3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 492