Origins and significance
Pope Paul VI had described this feast as a "joint celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, of the basic preparation for the coming of the Saviour and of the happy beginning of the Church without spot or wrinkle." Through the centuries, the Church has grown in awareness that Mary, full of grace through God, was redeemed from the first moment of her conception,
(cf Catechism of the Catholic Church, 491)
"Eternal God, it is right that on this feast of the conception of blessed Mary, ever virgin, we should praise, bless and proclaim You with joyful hearts. By the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit she conceived Your only begotten Son and, with the glory of her maidenhood still intact, poured forth upon this world the Light Eternal, Jesus Christ our Lord." (Pope Urban II, 1096)
"Of long standing is that devotion of the faithful of Christ towards His most Blessed Mother, who consider that her soul, at the first instant of creation and infusion into her body was, by a special grace and privilege of God, and in view of the merits of her Son, the Redeemer of the human race, preserved completely from the stain of original sin."
(Pope Alexander VII, December 8th 1661)
"God, having chosen the Most Blessed Virgin from all eternity as the Mother of His Son, made her, both as to soul and body, worthy to bear Him in her womb. For this reason He preserved her from everything which might, however slightly, displease Him. Hence, by a special privilege, He exempted her from original sin. Of this we should have no doubt for it is the universal belief of the faithful and the Church sanctions it."
(St John Baptist De La Salle, 1651-1719)
"The splendour of an entirely unique holiness by which Mary is enriched from the first moment 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 person in Christ with every spiritual blessing and chose her in Christ, before the foundations of the world, to be holy and blameless before Him in love." (Catechism of Catholic Church, 492)
Defined as a Doctrine
In the papal bull 'Ineffabilis Deus' , Pope Pius IX defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as an article of faith on December 8th 1854. The dogma centres upon the victory of God's grace freely given in Christ. Because of sins universality, the entire human race is offered salvation through God's mercy in the life, death and resurrection of our Saviour before any merits or deserving works on our part. God's victory over sin is celebrated as Mary is conceived and her unsullied union with Him established. It will be her willing acceptance of motherhood which brings Christ to the world and our transgression, by way of our first parents is atoned. Her Son rescues from sin those already fallen and, in His Mother's case, demonstrates His redemptive power by preserving her innocence, for grace is more original than sin. '
In 1947, Pope Pius XII canonised Catherine Laboure, a French Sister of Charity whose feast is December 30th. From November 27th 1830, she received visions of Our Lady who asked her to have struck the Miraculous Medal which depicts Mary standing on a globe with shafts of light coming from her hands and around her the petition O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.'
"Mary Immaculate, Star of the morning,
Chosen before the creation began;
Chosen to bring for thy bridal adorning
Woe to the serpent and rescue to man."
(F.W. Wetherell, Westminster Hymnal, 1939)
Mary, conceived without sin, the first child of God, is the Mirror of Justice who reflects our present and future blessings and the truth of God's promises. Her goodness had always existed in His mind and, from eternity, He saw her 'fiat' to be freely given and that salvation was not, therefore, imposed upon His Creation. Mary's role as Mother of our Redeemer was no afterthought for with God there is the everlasting present moment, a thought which assists a vital participation in the life of the Church, her feasts and liturgical cycle which transcend historical commemoration and the limitations of vocabulary.
"Father, You prepared the Virgin Mary to be the worthy Mother of Your Son. You let her share beforehand in the salvation Christ would bring by His death and kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception. Help us by her prayers to live in Your presence without sin. She had a faith which Your Spirit prepared and a love which never knew sin. Trace in our actions the lines of her love and, in our hearts, her readiness of faith. Prepare again a world for Your Son."
(Opening Prayers of the Feast, adapted)
"Father, You allowed no stain of Adam's sin to touch the Virgin Mary. Full of grace, she was to be a worthy Mother for Your Son, Your sign of favour to the Church at its beginning and the promise of its perfection as the Bride of Christ, radiant in beauty. Purest of virgins, she was to bring forth Your Son, the innocent Lamb who takes away our sins. You chose her from all women to be our advocate with You and our pattern of holiness."
(From the Preface of the Feast)
readings for the Feast
From the readings for the Feast
"After Adam had eaten of the tree, the Lord God called to him. 'Where are you?' He asked. 'I heard the sound of You in the garden,' he replied. I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.' 'Who told you that you were naked?' He asked. 'Have you been eating of the tree I forbade you to eat?' The man replied, it was the woman You put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it.' Then the Lord God asked the woman, 'What is this you have done?' The woman replied, 'The serpent tempted me and I ate it.' Then the Lord God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this be accursed beyond all cattle, all wild beasts. You shall crawl on your belly and eat dust every day of your life. I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. It will crush your head and you will strike its heel.' The man named his wife 'Eve' because she was the mother of all those who live." (Genesis 3:9-15;20)
"The Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David: and the virgin's name was Mary. He went in and said to her, 'Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you." (Luke 1:26-38)
See also the Feast of the Annunciation
Companion To The Feasts Of Mary
Published by Catholic Truth Society