Friday, December 07, 2018 - Updated: 3:15 pm
QUESTION: I would like to know the meaning of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I would also like to know if this feast is a recent one or one that was celebrated throughout Christian history.
ANSWER: The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is that day on which the church celebrates its belief that the Virgin Mary was free from original sin from the very first moment of her life (at her conception). This celebration marks an event that occurred before the conception of Christ.
If we understand even this much about the Immaculate Conception we are probably clearer than many Catholics who misunderstand the celebration and believe that the Immaculate Conception means Mary conceived the child Jesus without sin (without intercourse!).
Some have attempted to cite Genesis 3:15 to support a belief in the Immaculate Conception. This passage, however, speaks more strongly about the “seed” of the woman who is Christ. Likewise, others have attempted to ground belief in the Immaculate Conception on the passage from Luke’s Gospel that speaks of Mary as “full of grace” (Luke 1:28).
Most importantly, however, Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary does not rest upon any singular scriptural citation, but rather upon a faith tradition that is rooted in the ancient affirmation of Mary’s holiness. This belief finds expression at the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) when it spoke of Mary as “Mother of God.”
Throughout the centuries, significant discussions took place regarding the Immaculate Conception. At the same time, popular devotion to Mary under this title spread. In 1846, the bishops of the United States established Mary (under the specific title of the Immaculate Conception) as the principal patron of this nation.
In 1854, after widespread consultation, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the doctrine “which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ ...”
The final part of the above sentence helps us to understand the meaning of this belief for our own lives. We honor the virtues of Mary in many feasts and under various titles, but the Immaculate Conception is unique among them. In this feast we do not honor Mary for any singular virtue or deed, but pay homage to God for the wonders worked in the Virgin from the first moment of her conception.
The applicable meaning for us is to see in this feast the tremendous potential of God’s grace. The wonders worked in the life of the Virgin Mary, although unique in her life, can also be echoed in our own. Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary speaks strongly of the mystery of God’s grace and the salvation God wills for us all.
There is a modern tendency to “go it alone” or “do it myself.” The notion of grace in the Virgin Mary is that God intervened in her life and is prepared to do so in our own lives. Mary’s “yes” to the angel opened a channel of grace that brought salvation into the world.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.