El Greco Immaculate Conception


Not one, but TWO major events in the Catholic Church on one day – the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

On April 11, 2015, Pope Francis issued  Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercyproclaiming a Year of Mercy to take place from December 8, 2015 – the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – through November 20, 2016 – the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, Christ the King. 

What an incredible gift!

I’ll be writing more on the Year of Mercy. After all, I’ve got a whole year to do that. For now, I’d like to focus on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and why it’s so amazing.

This Holy Day of Obligation is one of the most beautiful (and misunderstood) feasts 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 March 25 and is called the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

The Immaculate Conception, proclaimed in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, celebrates the conception of Mary in the womb of St. Anne.

That leads me to another common misunderstanding about the Immaculate Conception. The misconception (no pun intended) among both Catholics and non-Catholics is that Catholics believe that Mary was free of original sin and did not need to be redeemed.

That’s not true, either.

The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was, “pre-redeemed,” or more precisely, that Mary was redeemed by Christ at her conception. This was a special gift given to her by God in light of her becoming the Mother of God.

If you have trouble accepting (or explaining) that doctrine, consider this: 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 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.

Perhaps you can stop in at your cathedral, or one of the other churches or shrines with Holy Doors designated for the Year of Mercy and take advantage of the plenary indulgences granted by following the normal conditions. 

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)

The combination of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the start of the Jubilee of Mercy is ever-so perfect. Pope Francis knew that when he chose the date for the Year of Mercy to begin.

Here’s what he wrote about that in the Papal Bull:

Chosen to be the Mother of the Son of God, Mary, from the outset, was prepared by the love of God to be theArk of the Covenant between God and man. She treasured divine mercy in her heart in perfect harmony with her Son Jesus. Her hymn of praise, sung at the threshold of the home of Elizabeth, was dedicated to the mercy of God which extends from “generation to generation” (Lk 1:50). We too were included in those prophetic words of the Virgin Mary. This will be a source of comfort and strength to us as we cross the threshold of the Holy Year to experience the fruits of divine mercy.

At the foot of the Cross, Mary, together with John, the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness spoken by Jesus. This supreme expression of mercy towards those who crucified him show us the point to which the mercy of God can reach. Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception. Let us address her in the words of the Salve Regina, a prayer ever ancient and ever new, so that she may never tire of turning her merciful eyes upon us, and make us worthy to contemplate the face of mercy, her Son Jesus.

By cooperating with God’s request, Mary became the instrument of the Incarnation. By conceiving the God-Man in her womb, she opened up the door for Christ’s Passion and Death on the Cross – the ultimate act of mercy. But in order to be worthy of that honor, she had to  be pre-redeemed.

In that way, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is indeed a feast of Mercy. And that is amazing!


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