CELEBRATE THE SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
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The Immaculate Conception Novena is a tribute to Mary, the Mother of God. We hope you will pray this beautiful novena alongside us as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception during December.
Thus, the Church teaches that the Blessed Mother was redeemed by Her Son, just as we are, but by a Divine anticipation of the merits of the Word-made-flesh. Like Eve before her, she was not subject to the Fall and thus to the prince of this world. However, unlike Eve, she would never surrender that freedom which God’s grace provided her.
What is the difference between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth?
The Immaculate Conception indicates that Our Lady was preserved from the penalty of original sin from the moment of her conception. The Virgin Birth means that Jesus was conceived and born, not of man, but by the Holy Spirit.
The Church teaches us that Mary was immaculately conceived. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
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.” (CCC 490-491)
“It is not to be believed that he, the Son of God, would be born of a Virgin, and take her flesh, were she in the slightest degree stained with original sin.” - St. Bernardine of Siena
Mary, the Mother of God, is the Immaculate Conception. This is because she was chosen by God and given the grace of being preserved from original sin.
Pope St. John Paul II said,
Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sm 16:7). And Mary’s heart was fully disposed to the fulfilment of the divine will. This is why the Blessed Virgin is the model of Christian expectation and hope... In her heart there is no shade of selfishness: she desires nothing for herself except God’s glory and human salvation. For her, the very privilege of being preserved from original sin is not a reason to boast, but one for total service to her Son’s redemptive mission.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 492-493) teaches,
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.
“Mary was immaculate, and remote from all stain of sin.” - St. Ephrem the Syrian
A Solemnity is the highest feast day in the Church. Of the Solemnities, several of them are designated as Holy Days of Obligation, meaning the faithful are obliged to attend Mass.
Why do we have Holy Days of Obligation?
These are the most significant liturgical celebrations of the year, commemorating the greatest events and mysteries in salvation history. On these days the Church asks Catholics to give thanks to God by participating in the Holy Eucharist, since the Mass is the highest act of worship and thanksgiving we can render to God.
There are 10 universal Holy Days of Obligation of the Church. Bishops’ conference may request an exception for their country. The U.S. norm is indicated in parenthesis.
- Holy Mary Mother of God, January 1
- Epiphany, January 6 (Sunday after January 1)
- Saint Joseph, March 19 (not of obligation in the United States)
- Ascension, Thursday 40 days after Easter (Sunday in most U.S. dioceses)
- Corpus Christi, Thursday after Trinity Sunday (Sunday after Trinity Sunday)
- Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, June 29 (not observed)
- Assumption, August 15
- All Saints, November 1
- Immaculate Conception, December 8 (and as Patroness of the United States)
Our Lady, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, is the patroness of the United States.
How are the Immaculate Conception, Lourdes and St. Bernadette related?
In 1858, just four years after Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady appeared on 18 occasions to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France. In one of the last apparitions, that of March 25, the feast of the Annunciation and Incarnation, the Virgin revealed her name, saying, "Que soy era Immaculada Counceptiou,” which means “I am the Immaculate Conception” in the dialect of the region.
The beautiful story of the events is told in the classic film The Song of Bernadette, based on a 1941 book by the Jewish writer Franz Werfel. Werfel found refuge from the Nazis in Lourdes for 5 weeks, during which time he promised to tell the story of Bernadette if he was able to get to America, which he did.
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Although the Immaculate Conception is not found in the Sacred Scripture in any literal sense, the Church has arrived at the teaching by drawing out the implications of many texts which speak of her and her role in salvation.
In Genesis 3:15, immediately after the sin of Adam, God revealed His plan of salvation to be accomplished through the fidelity of a man and a woman, just as our fall occurred through the infidelity of a man and a woman.
“I will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”
The offspring of Satan is sin; therefore, the Woman and Her Seed will be without it, completely opposed to Satan and his offspring. Thus, we see in the very first announcement of God’s plan for salvation that He intends to keep Mary free from sin so that Jesus would assume a pure human nature.
The New Testament also shows the truth of this role. In the Gospel of John, the Apostle reports two significant occasions when the Lord calls His mother “Woman,” connecting her to the Woman of Genesis 3:15. First at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:4), and then again at its consummation on the Cross (John 19:26)—the moment of Satan’s apparent triumph. He likewise speaks in Revelation 12 of the “Woman clothed with the sun” who gives rise to the Child destined to rule the world.
We get further confirmation from Luke 1:28, which records the angel addressing Mary as “full of grace” (“perfected in grace”). And again, in 1:41-44, when Elizabeth greets her cousin Mary,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy.”
The Church very early, therefore, recognizing the parallels between the Fall and the Redemption began referring to Mary as the New Eve, and over the centuries to draw out all the implications of this role of grace––the reality of which began with her preservation from the sin of Adam, through the Immaculate Conception.
Most of the Hail Mary prayer comes from the Gospel of Luke. Luke 1:28 says,
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”
and Luke 1:42 says,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
Pope St. John Paul II explained it thus,
Hail, full of grace. What do these words mean? The Evangelist Luke writes that Mary (Miriam), at these words spoken by the Angel, “was greatly troubled…, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk 1:29). These words express a singular election. Grace means a particular fullness of creation through which the being, who resembles God, participates in God’s own interior life. Grace means love and the gift of God himself, the completely free gift (“given gratuitously”) in which God entrusts to man his Mystery, giving him, at the same time, the capacity of being able to bear witness to the Mystery, of filling with it his human being, his life, his thoughts, his will and his heart.