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What is the Immaculate Conception?

2013 December 8
by Gordon Reid




This year we cannot keep the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 8 since that is the second Sunday of Advent  which takes precedence under the old rules. So we shall observe it on Monday, December 9 instead.

But why keep as a Feast the day when Joachim and Anna, the parents of Mary, made love, the result of which was that Mary was conceived in Anna’s womb? We don’t normally keep the day nine months before our birthdays when our parents came together and conceived us. Maybe we should, although  since it is seldom  nine months to the day that we are born, it might seem a bit of a hit or a miss compared with the day of our birth, which we can date precisely.

In the Church Calendar, there are only three people whose birthday we commemorate, Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist. All the others are remembered on their “heavenly birthdays”, the day they died, or a date close to the day they died. And Jesus and Mary are the only two whose earthly birthdays we commemorate.

Mary is very special, therefore. And we must always regard her as very special. After all, she is the  person chosen by God to be the mother of  his eternal Son, the Person who is equal to him and has existed with him and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. She was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit and gave birth to the Son of God while remaining a virgin. So the Church has always taught that she must have been very special from the moment she came into existence, from her conception.

However, the Church  in the West is very careful about what it says about this conception. All that it claims is that Mary received from God the gift of being delivered from the influence of Original Sin from the moment she was conceived, and that this was done because of what would happen three decades later, when her Son died for the sins of all mankind. In other words, Mary was given the same gift from God at her conception as is given to every Christian who is baptized, freedom from Original Sin. And just as  a baptized Christian is still capable of actual sin, so was Mary. When the angel Gabriel asked her to be Mother of God’s Son, she could have said No. She had the same freedom as all human beings. But she chose to say Yes, and  it is in that answer, and the fact that she stuck to that answer through thick and thin, that the glory of Mary lies.

It is Mary who first taught her Son about God his Father by seeing that he knew the Scriptures of Israel. Then, as he grew in wisdom, he began to teach Mary the hidden depths of those Scriptures, and the places where they all pointed to the coming of the Messiah, and how he knew that he himself was that Messiah. And Mary “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” till she saw the Cross and Resurrection and knew beyond any shadow of doubt that what her Son had taught and shown all through his life was true, gloriously true.

So we  glorify and rejoice in Mary from her Conception to her Assumption. In both, she shows forth the vocation of every Christian, to shun sin and by following the divine Son of God to arrive at the perfection of life, eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Paul Goings permalink
    December 9, 2013

    [In the event that this comment is deleted, please see my Facebook page.]

    Liturgically this is nonsense, unless “old” means 1970. Even the greatly deprived 1962 rite prefers the Immaculate Conception to Advent II. And one cannot appeal to Anglican rules, as no Anglican calendar contains the feast of the Immaculate Conception as far as I know, and certainly not that of the American Episcopal Church.

    So “old” must be code for something else. Let the reader understand what is meant!

    • Martin Brynildsen permalink
      January 14, 2014

      I believe their is still a version of the standard Ordo calendar which marks simply the Conception of the BVM on December 8. I assume it’s still published (the Missal edition), but who knows!

  2. December 13, 2013

    The concurrence of several feasts is a beautiful thing, and it should therefore not be avoided. In the Eastern Churches, even when the Lady Day and the Good Friday fall together, it’s accepted as such. And that is not strange to the West either (as John Donne also points it: «This Church, by letting those days join,/ Hath shown death and conception in mankind is one»). In that case, celebrating Jesus’ resurrection on Sundays does not refrain us from having one or several memories of sundry saints.

    The calendars also mention the conception of St John the Baptist on the 23rd day of September (not the 24th; one day of difference); in the East, the conception of the BVM falls always on the 9th of December (not the 8th). One day of difference for both, because only Christ is perfect.

  3. Martin Brynildsen permalink
    January 14, 2014

    FWIW…Sorry about the grammatical error.

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