Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
c. 15 B.C.

December 8—Solemnity
Liturgical Color: White
Patroness of Brazil, Korea, Philippines, Spain, and the United States of America

Only one person ever chose His own mother—and she was perfect

The Ark of the Covenant was a sumptuously adorned chest housing the Jews’ most sacred objects: the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna, and Aaron’s staff. Before its disappearance, the Ark was the centerpiece of the Holy of Holies, the mysterious chamber lying behind the curtain in Jerusalem’s Temple. Only the high priest dared to enter this sacred chamber. Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. She is not a gold-encrusted trunk filled with artifacts but the flesh-and-blood person whose womb nurtured Jesus Christ. Today’s feast celebrates Mary’s own stainless conception, the remote preparation that formed her into that vessel of honor where the living Word first sprang to life. God prepared Mary from her first instant for this great purpose—to be the perfect edifice to carry, birth, and mother the Son of God, one to whom any taint of sin would be repugnant.

Mary was conceived in the natural human way by her parents, Joachim and Anne. But God had a plan and was eager to give Mary an utterly unique gift that could not wait until her childhood or adolescence to be unwrapped. The gift of the Immaculate Conception was given contemporaneously with Mary’s microscopic sparking to life. If we had the chance to choose our own mother, we would not select a selfish, disordered, mean, and sinful woman. We would lovingly accept such a mother but not deliberately choose her. God could choose His own mother, though, and so logically chose a perfect one. As the author of creation, He crafted a pristine soul incapable of sin or moral disorder. Alone among all creation, Mary reaped the spiritual rewards of her Son’s resurrection before its historical occurrence, saving her from death and bodily corruption, sin’s cruelest punishments. Mary was simply flooded with God’s grace in her very origins and has never ceased to be united with Him after that.

When she is just a fetus, a woman has as many eggs as she will ever have. The ovaries of a female fetus are saturated with eggs whose numbers will only decrease over time. So half of the genetic material necessary to form an embryo has waited, latent, inside of that embryo’s mother since the time that mother was herself in utero. The unbroken chain of human life is unfathomably beautiful. Grandmother, mother, and grandchild are, in a certain sense, bound together, united, in every woman expecting a daughter. When Mary was conceived in the womb of Saint Anne, then, the DNA of Jesus of Nazareth was already present in the embryonic Mary. This is a biological fact, not a statement of faith. At the Annunciation, when Mary miraculously conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, that “Lord and Giver of Life”spoke through the words of the Archangel Gabriel and sparked Christ to first stir with humanity deep inside the body where His genes had long been waiting.

Everything new is experienced as a miracle—a new dawn, a new baby, a new house, a new marriage. The Immaculate Conception is celebrated with the greatest solemnity around the world because it commemorates a new, pivotal moment. In Saint Anne, God was readying the fairest flower of Israel, her most modest daughter and humble rose, for Himself. Mary’s virtues of humility and obedience would straighten the path twisted by Eve’s sins of pride and disobedience. By God’s own choice, Mary alone would escape the grip of Adam’s sin. She would be the New Eve, that Spiritual Vessel, House of Gold, and Morning Star whose Immaculate Conception was the first flicker of a greater Light to come.

Mary of the Immaculate Conception, may your purity, virtue, and obedience be a perennial model for all the faithful of the humble and narrow pathways which alone lead to God. Be at our side to encourage and inspire us as we try to be ever nearer to your Son, Jesus.

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Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854.

Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”[29]

Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

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