Advent is the first season in the Liturgical Year. It is also the time when the Catholic Church celebrates the Immaculate Conception. The feast is on December 8th and many Catholics either don’t realize the significance of this day, or worse, believe misconceptions about it. To help increase your understanding and devotion, here are four things you need to know about the Immaculate Conception:
1. The Immaculate Conception Celebrated in the Catholic Church is About Mary, Not Jesus
Because Advent is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus, there is a common misconception that the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus’ birth without sin or the conception of Jesus through divine rather than human means. However, Jesus’ conception is celebrated on March 25th (the Annunciation), nine months before Christmas day. The Immaculate Conception on December 8th is actually about Mary.
As the Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, deepened its understanding of Mary’s role in salvation history, there was a rising awareness that Mary, called “full of grace” by the angel Gabriel, was redeemed at the instant of her conception. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed in 1854 by Blessed Pope Pius IX, states:
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.
2. The Catholic Church Designates the Immaculate Conception as a Solemnity
The organization of the Liturgical Year includes not only seasons such as Advent, but times of celebration, honoring Saints, and other days of prayer and special observances. To distinguish the importance between these, the Church designates each of these as a memorial, feast, or solemnity.
In short, Sundays and solemnities are a higher priority. They begin their celebration on the evening before. Sundays and the six solemnities in the United States are also holy days of obligation. On these days, the faithful are obliged to participate at the Holy Mass, refrain from unnecessary work, and avoid other activities that may prevent one from relaxing the mind and body.
3. It’s Not Just the Catholic Church Who Calls Mary the Immaculate Conception—Mary Herself Affirmed It
Only four years after Blessed Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma, the Blessed Mother appeared to a 14 year-old illiterate peasant girl, St. Bernadette, in Lourdes, France. Unfortunately she was beaten by her mother and ridiculed by local priests and those in her community and no one believed her.
But on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, after St. Bernadette continued to ask the lady in the vision to reveal her name, the Blessed Virgin extended her arms in the position seen on the Miraculous Medal, raised her eyes to heaven and said, “I am the Immaculate Conception”. From then on everyone believed Bernadette’s claims, knowing that due to her lack of education she would not have known about Mary under that title or have been aware of the dogma that had been proclaimed by Blessed Pope Pius IX.
“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.”
–prayer on the Miraculous Medal given to St. Catherine Laboure (1830)
4. The Catholic Church Recognizes Mary Had a Unique Mission, And So Do You
God gave Mary a special gift by preserving her from original sin. This gift highlights her extraordinary nature as the woman who freely chose to be Jesus’ mother. She had a special mission from God and is the very best example of someone who lives in the world, but is not of it.
God also gives you particular gifts for what He has called you to do. There is no mission for Him that is too small. He will equip you, just as He provided for the Mother of Our Lord. If you are uncertain as to what your mission is, ask Our Lady to intercede on your behalf that it will be revealed.
Mary and the Catholic Church Call Us to be Holy and Immaculate
In its annual rhythm, the Liturgical Year with its memorials, feasts, and solemnities calls to us. If you are looking for ways to deepen your devotion to Mary as the Immaculate Conception and draw closer to Jesus:
- Consider going to confession to “clean up your soul” so as to better imitate Mary.
- Dig into the richness and depth of this solemnity. An article that may spiritually assist you is The Immaculate Conception published on Aleteia.
- Wear a Miraculous Medal and recite the prayer on it often.
- Meditate on this prayer by the Association of the Miraculous Medal
Prayer to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
O most Holy Virgin, immaculate in body
and spirit, look kindly on me as I implore
your powerful intercession.
O most Holy Mother, receive my prayers
as I present them to God.
(state your intentions here)
O Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother,
you intercede for us with your Son.
O Mary conceived without sin,
pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Each month on The Station of the Cross, our program hosts and their guests highlight special feast days and devotions. You can listen on thestationofthecross.com and click the “play” button for the live broadcast.