The 8th December is one of the greatest feasts of Mary, the Mother of God. By way of explaining exactly what this feast is about, perhaps the best place to start is the long name for today’s feast: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
A solemnity means a day that is marked by particular festivity in the celebration of the Mass and the Prayer of the Church. It means that even though the day may be an ordinary weekday, like this year it falls on a Thursday, a solemnity it is kept as though it were a Sunday. Sunday is the holiest day of the week for Catholics because it is the day on which the Lord rose from the dead. So Sunday is the benchmark of solemnity in the Holy Mass, and so if a feast is called a solemnity, we should be on the look out in the Mass for things which we are used to from a Sunday.
For example on a solemnity, as on a Sunday, we say the Gloria at the beginning of the Mass. This is a song of praise to the Holy Trinity, using the words that the angels sang on the night Christ was born of Mary in Bethlehem. Why not Google the words of the Gloria if you’re not familiar with them? In fact, much of Western Classical music was based on the words of the Mass and if you were to type Gloria into YouTube, you’d find literally hundreds of Mass settings by composers such as Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.
Also, we stand and say the Credo after the Homily. This Profession of Faith is our personal confession of belief in the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as well as the Church, that baptism washes away our sins, the resurrection of the dead, and everlasting life.
So the liturgy tells us that this particular feast is one of great solemnity, kept as though it were a Sunday.
The phrase ‘Immaculate Conception’ often gets confused with the Virginal Conception of the Lord. The Virginal Conception is the belief that Mary, while remaining a virgin, conceived the Son of God in her womb miraculously, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Immaculate Conception, however, refers not to Christ’s conception, but to Mary’s. It is the truth revealed to us by God, that Mary, conceived in the ordinary way by her father and mother, St. Joachim and St. Anne, was free of any spot or stain of original sin. Original sin means our sharing in that first sin of Adam and Eve has had on the world which that touches each of us as members of the human race. The consequences of original sin still remain even after baptism; death, suffering, and the desire to sin even though we know it to be wrong. Our Lady, however, was conceived immaculate, without original sin. Indeed, immaculate itself means spotless, without stain, without fault, pure. So to put it simply, the Immaculate Conception means that Mary was without original sin, pure from the very moment her life began, and remained sinless for the whole of her life.
Mary received this from the Lord not due to her own merits, but due to a unique gift of grace. God is the only One who was able to chose his own mother, and in chosing Mary, he made her the most beautiful person he has ever created, beautiful in her soul from the moment of her conception. Anticipating the power that the death and resurrection of God the Son would have on the universe in freeing us from sin and death, the Holy Trinity preserved our Lady from all sin so that she would be a worthy dwelling place for God himself.
Why not look further into this wonderful teaching of the Catholic Church? It is a wonderful truth of our faith, and our Lady is so precious to God as without Mary he could not have come to us. To even think about that for a few moments would be a great way to mark this great solemnity and to ponder the mystery of Christmas for which Advent prepares us.
Here is a wonderful hymn to mark the Immaculate Conception. Why not say it aloud as a prayer to our Lady and ask her to show us how to live lives in friendship with God, and free from sin?
Holy light on earth’s horizon
Star of hope to fallen man,
Light amid a world of shadows,
Dawn of God’s redemptive plan.
Chosen from eternal ages,
Thou alone of all our race,
By thy Son’s atoning merits
Wast conceived in perfect grace.
Mother of the world’s Redeemer,
Promised from the dawn of time:
How could one so highly favoured
Share the guilt of Adam’s crime?
Sun and moon and stars adorn thee,
Sinless Eve, triumphant sign;
Thou art she who crushed the serpent,
Mary, pledge of life divine
Earth below and highest heaven
Praise the splendour of thy state,
Thou who now art crowned in glory
Wast conceived immaculate.
Hail, beloved of the Father,
Mother of his only Son,
Mystic bride of Love eternal,
Hail, thou fair and spotless one!
Post by Edmund Montgomery