Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of Obligation and a most beautiful feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many mistakenly believe that this holy day commemorates the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, but that is celebrated on the Feast of the Annunciation.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, celebrates the conception of Mary in the womb of St. Anne. Some also falsely think that Catholics believe that Mary was free of original sin and did not need to be redeemed. That’s not true, either. We believe that Mary was, “pre-redeemed,” or more precisely, that Mary was redeemed by Christ at her conception, a special gift given to her by God in light of her becoming the Mother of God. On a common sense level, contemplate that for a minute. Jesus was/is God. Is it possible that God could be conceived, carried in, and borne of, the womb of a creature still affected by original sin?

I hope that you can spend some time this day meditating on this amazing dogma of our faith, and that you can visit at least for a little while with our Blessed Mother, either your parish church, chapel, a Marian shrine, or even in the shrine of your heart.

Below is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the Immaculate Conception. Perhaps this can be fodder for your meditation:

“To become the mother of the Savior, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.’ The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as ‘full of grace’.  In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.

Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

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.

The ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first instant of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ: she is ‘redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son’. The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love’.

The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God ‘the All-Holy’ (Panagia), and celebrate her as ‘free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature’. By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.” (CCC, 490-493)

As we celebrate the Immaculate Conception, we might also ask our Lady to intercede for us the grace of purity for our own selves and those we love. It isn’t possible for us to be immaculately conceived, but it is possible for us to grow in holiness, with Mary’s help. Here’s a prayer that I think is particularly fitting for the occasion. It was written by Fr. Joseph Kentenich, Servant of God and Founder of the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt. He wrote it when he was just a boy, and its profundity and yet childlike simplicity always deeply touches my heart – I’m sure it will touch yours, too. Blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

Hail Mary,

for the sake of your purity, keep me pure in body and soul.

Open wide to me your heart and the heart of your Son.

Implore for me deep self-knowledge and the grace to persevere and remain faithful until death.

Give me souls; keep all else for yourself. Amen.

~Fr. Joseph Kentenich

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