Today, December 8, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This may also be one of the most misunderstood feasts of the Church year. The Immaculate Conception is when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, who tradition calls St. Ann, without the stain of Original Sin or, immaculately. Catholics believe that Mary was chosen, even before she was conceived, by God to bear his Son and so he preserved her from the stain of sin that has been passed down top all mankind from our first parents Adam and Eve.
Many mistakenly believe the Immaculate Conception to be when Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this idea comes from the fact that we will hear the story of Mary meeting the angel today at Mass, but that event is called the Annunciation by the Church and celebrated on March 25 - nine months before Christmas.
Perhaps there is confusion because the Immaculate Conception is a relatively new doctrine in the 2,000 year history of our faith. Though many have believed in the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary from the very earliest days of the church, the doctrine was not officially defined until 1854 by Pope Pius IX who speaking infallibly declared:
Whatever the reason for the confusion, it is important we understand this doctrine, especially as Americans who celebrate Mary of the Immaculate Conception as the patroness of the USA. For that reason the bishops in our country decided that this feast is an Holy Day of Obligation - a day we must attend Mass. Let us do so joyfully, thanking God for the gift his Son to us through Mary, and asking her intercession for the needs of our nation!
Mary, the Immaculate Conception, Pray for Us!