Annually on December 8, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of Obligation, and a most beautiful feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many mistakenly believe that this holy day commemorates the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, but that is celebrated on the Feast of the Annunciation.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, celebrates the conception of Mary in the womb of St. Anne. Some also falsely think that Catholics believe that Mary was free of original sin and did not need to be redeemed. That’s not true, either. We believe that Mary was, “pre-redeemed,” or more precisely, that Mary was redeemed by Christ at her conception, a special gift given to her by God in light of her becoming the Mother of God. On a common sense level, contemplate that for a minute. Jesus is God. It’s impossible that God could be conceived, carried in, and borne of, the womb of a creature still affected by original sin!
Below is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the Immaculate Conception.
“To become the mother of the Savior, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.’ The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as ‘full of grace’. In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.
Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.
The ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first instant of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ: she is ‘redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son’. The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love’.
The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God ‘the All-Holy’ (Panagia), and celebrate her as ‘free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature’. By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.” (CCC, 490-493)
Here are five suggestions for celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:
- Attend Mass either physically or virtually. Offer your holy Communion for those who do not venerate Mary or understand her importance in Salvation History.
- Pray the Rosary in honor of Mary’s purity. The Eastern Fathers describe Mary as “a new creature,” free from any stain of sin. That makes her perfectly pure in every respect.
- Make your prayer corner extra-special. If you can, give Mary fresh flowers. You might want to light a special candle during your prayer time or give your favorite image of Mary a place of honor for the day. Use your imagination to mark the solemnity.
- Spend time meditating on Luke 1:39-56 – the story of The Visitation. When Mary greets Elizabeth, she immediately recognizes Mary as “the Mother of my Lord,” and the child within her womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy. Then Mary proclaims her Magnificat – her prayer of thanksgiving for all God has done to and through her.
- Have a festive meal. Solemnities are days of joy in the Church, and we’re called to celebrate them. It doesn’t have to be costly or fancy, just have something you truly enjoy. Then remember to thank our Lord for his goodness in providing for you!
May your celebration of the Immaculate Conception be filled with blessings and joy!