From the time of Abraham’s response to God’s call to leave the country of his kinsmen, God began the process of preparing the way for the Messiah. Abraham, after all, introduced to his pagan neighbors the objective truth of the one God: Creator of all that is, was and ever shall be. He was being set aside for this intention. Along with his wife, Sarah, Abraham is credited throughout Jewish teaching for converting pagan neighbors to the monotheistic faith of Judaism. Abraham, being set aside for that purpose, was able to remain a vessel for God’s plan.
Not only was Abraham a vessel for God, Abraham acted as an intercessor as well. Consider his dialogue with God, in which God is prepared to pour out His wrath and punishment upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham beseeches God to withhold punishment if Abraham is able to find but a small handful of citizens who have not succumbed to the moral decay of their neighbors. God enters into this dialogue because of Abraham’s faithfulness and the faith in which Abraham has lived his own life, following God.
The evolution of God’s plan, which began in earnest with Abraham’s visible commitment to monotheism, continued throughout salvation history. People, and even items, were often set aside, to be used in this plan for man’s deliverance. Qadosh is the Hebrew word that means set aside, or separated, for a purpose. Throughout the Old Testament, people and things had often been set aside for specific purposes. When God called upon Israel to be a people like no other and to be a kingdom of priests, those priests were “set aside” for specific duties. Utensils, vessels, and garb that were meant for service at the altar of the temple were “set apart” and would not be used elsewhere, lest they be defiled. So this “setting aside” was a common understanding of the Jewish people. Abraham was “set aside” when he was asked to leave his homeland and the evolution of being set aside was underway.
When Mary is called the “Immaculate Conception” she is simply reflecting two thousand years of Jewish practice in which something meant for God’s use, for His salvific plan, is set aside. It is not a new teaching but, rather, rests upon Jewish laws that are thousands of years old. Objects used in worship were set aside from ordinary use. Persons were set aside from their ordinary occupations to be devoted to the Lord’s service. And finally Mary was set aside from the ordinary effects of original sin in order for her human body to be the vessel for Christ: thus the “Immaculate Conception.” Additionally, just as these things — whether people or items — acted as intercessors between God and His people, so Mary acts as intercessor as well. This is the culmination of thousands of years of preparation for the Messiah that began with Abraham’s being called from his homeland.