The Feast of the Immaculate Conception Cliff Notes
Who: The Blessed Mother, also known as Mary, Our Lady, Theotokos, the one whom “all generations will called ‘blessed'”, and the one who is “full of grace”
What: It was declared, pronounced and defined “that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful”.
Where: In the Papal encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, by Pope Pius IX
When: December 8, 1854 ; also venerated by St. Ephrem the Syrian (d. AD 373), St. Ambrose (d. AD 397), St. John of Damascus (d. AD 755), Blessed John Duns Scotus (d. 1308), The Council of Basle in 1439), Pope Sixtus IV in 1476, Pope Clement XI in 1708, and Pius IX in 1847.
Why: The immunity from original sin was given to Mary by a singular exemption from a universal law through the same merits of Christ, by which other men are cleansed from sin by baptism. Mary needed the redeeming Saviour to obtain this exemption, and to be delivered from the universal necessity and debt (debitum) of being subject to original sin. The person of Mary, in consequence of her origin from Adam, should have been subject to sin, but, being the new Eve who was to be the mother of the new Adam, she was, by the eternal counsel of God and by the merits of Christ, withdrawn from the general law of original sin. Her redemption was the very masterpiece of Christ's redeeming wisdom. He is a greater redeemer who pays the debt that it may not be incurred than he who pays after it has fallen on the debtor. Such is the meaning of the term “Immaculate Conception.” (newadvent.org)
How: It is universally celebrated in the Church on December 8, nine months prior to the Feast of the Nativity of Mary on September 8. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a Holy Day of Obligation in the United States, Ireland, and the Philipines. It is the Patronal Feast Day of United States of America, Spain, Korea, Portugal, Nicaragua, Brazil, and the Philippines.
Readings at Mass: Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Psalm 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38
Defining the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX promulgated the infallible dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This ex cathedra statement made official the eternal sinlessness of Mary, showing that from the moment of the creation of her soul she was granted a unique grace from God to be excluded from the stain of original sin, enabling her to carry Jesus Christ in her womb. This is a teaching that had been widely believed throughout the Church for at least 250 years before being declared, and it was forbidden to teach to the contrary, but once the doctrine was declared infallibly it became a teaching that all Catholics are bound to believe by faith.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception states that “The Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.” Original sin was not removed from her soul as happens with baptism, but in fact was never even present there to be removed. It was because of the merits of Christ that this was able to occur, because no one can have that debt of original sin removed or excluded without Christ's actions and the grace of God. At Lourdes, France in 1858 – just four years after the dogma was proclaimed – Mary herself confirmed this to St. Bernadette during one of her 18 apparitions, telling Bernadette “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
For centuries prior to the promulgation, there had been a feast day in place to commemorate the conception of Mary within the womb of her mother St. Anne, and in the Eastern church the feast is still called the Conception by St. Anne, or the “Child-begetting of the holy Anne, mother of the Mother of God.” It seems that the feast originally came from the East, and its origins in both the Eastern and Western churches were in monasteries.
Patroness of the United States
This aspect of Mary has become one of the most popular Marian devotions, and many dioceses and churches consider Mary the Immaculate Conception their patron. She is the patroness of the United States with this title, declared so officially by the first Council of Baltimore in 1846.
The patronal church of the United States is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, dedicated to the patroness of the United States and located in Washington, DC. It is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, and one of the ten largest in the world. It is an often-visited pilgrimage site for Americans, being the largest Marian shrine in the United States.
The church was built both to help the Catholic University of America gain more prominence and to create a national shrine dedicated to honor Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God. It took several years to raise the money necessary to create such a building, and in 1920 the site of the future church was blessed. A few months later the cornerstone was placed on the site; however, because there was not yet a builder at that point, actual construction did not begin until 1922. The Great Upper Church was dedicated in 1959, and in 1990 the church was named a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II. The beautiful church contains many chapels dedicated to different titles of Mary in both the Great Upper Church and the Crypt Church, including Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Hope, among many others. There are also chapels dedicated to saints including St. Joseph, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Lucy, St. Susanna, and St. Dominic.
The Immaculate Conception is an important title and aspect of Our Lady, and one very special to the United States (and many other countries, cities, and locations). The feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, is a holy day of obligation in the United States and some other countries including Ireland, and has a vigil attached to it.
Explaining the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!' But she was greatly troubled at the saying , and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
– Gospel of St. Luke, 1:26-30
“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.”
– Catechism of the Catholic Church 490, 491
“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 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.”
– Catechism of the Catholic Church 492, 493
A Prayer to the Virgin Mary
Mystical Rose, Mother of the Savior, Queen of the Holy Rosary and Mother of the Church, Christ's Mystical Body, I beseech thee on behalf of a war-torn world enslaved by sin, be merciful to those about to be lost for all eternity, especially those who have no one to pray for them, and pray for us, your children through consecration.
Mystical Rose, Queen of the Apostles and the clergy, grant to priests' hearts docile to thee and thy Motherly Heart, holy zeal for souls and a love of poverty in union with thee and Jesus Christ. I beg thee on behalf of those priests who know you little and seek not thy friendship in the Holy Rosary: pour on them thy mercy and solicitude.
Mystical Rose, Help of Christians, pray for us. Mystical Rose of the Immaculate Conception, protectress of priests and the consecrated, win them the favor of Jesus Christ!
Hail, Queen of Heaven!
Ave, Regina caelorum,
Ave, Domina Angelorum:
Salve, radix, salve, porta
Ex qua mundo lux est orta:
Gaude, Virgo gloriosa,
Super omnes speciosa,
Vale, o valde decora,
Et pro nobis Christum exora.
V. Dignare me laudare te, Virgo sacrata.
R. Da mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos.
Oremus. Concede, misericors Deus, fragilitati nostrae praesidium: ut, qui sanctae Dei Genitricis memoriam agimus; intercessionis eius auxilio, a nostris iniquitatibus resurgamus. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Hail, O Queen of Heaven.
Hail, O Lady of Angels
Hail! thou root, hail! thou gate
From whom unto the world, a light has arisen:
Rejoice, O glorious Virgin
Lovely beyond all others,
Farewell, most beautiful maiden,
And pray for us to Christ.
V. Allow me to praise thee, O sacred Virgin.
R. Against thy enemies give me strength.
Grant unto us, O merciful God, a defense against our weakness, that we who remember the holy Mother of God, by the help of her intercession, may rise from our iniquities, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.