Readings & Reflections with Cardinal Tagle’s Video: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, December 8,2016

Readings & Reflections with Cardinal Tagles’ Video: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, December 8,2016

God chose Mary the Immaculate Conception to be our “model of holiness” (Preface) in much the same way that DNA plays an integral role in our genetic code: from the inside, not from the outside. At Mary’s conception, a new way of being human happens, and we are “chosen, destined” to share it. Adam and Eve were tricked by the serpent’s “conception.” The yes of Mary at the Annunciation, the culmination of the Immaculate Conception, undoes the disobedience of Eden and makes paradise a possibility once again for us.


Opening Prayer

“Heavenly Father, you offer us abundant grace, mercy, and forgiveness through your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to live a grace-filled life as Mary did by believing in your promises and by giving you my unqualified “yes” to your will and plan for my life.” In Jesus’ Mighty Name, I pray. Amen.

Reading I
Gn 3:9-15, 20

After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree,
the LORD God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.”
Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked?
You have eaten, then,
from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—
she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman,
“Why did you do such a thing?”
The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

Then the LORD God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this, you shall be banned
from all the animals
and from all the wild creatures;
on your belly shall you crawl,
and dirt shall you eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike at your head,
while you strike at his heel.”

The man called his wife Eve,
because she became the mother of all the living.
The word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4

  1. (1) Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
    Sing to the LORD a new song,
    for he has done wondrous deeds;
    His right hand has won victory for him,
    his holy arm.
    R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
    The LORD has made his salvation known:
    in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
    He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
    toward the house of Israel.
    R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
    All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation by our God.
    Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
    break into song; sing praise.
    R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.

Reading II
Eph 1:3-6, 11-12

Brothers and sisters:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved.

In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.

The word of the Lord.

Alleluia  See Lk 1:28

  1. Alleluia, alleluia.
    Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you;
    blessed are you among women.
    Alleluia, alleluia.

Lk 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

The Gospel of the Lord.

Reflection 1 – The Immaculate Conception of Blessed Virgin Mary

“What does Mary being “Immaculate” means? And what does this title tell us?… After the Original Sin, God addresses the serpent, which represents Satan, curses it and adds a promise: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15). It is the announcement of revenge: at the dawn of the creation, Satan seems to have the upper hand, but the Son of a woman is to crush his head.

“Thus, through the offspring of a woman, God himself will triumph. Goodness will triumph. That woman is the Virgin Mary of whom was born Jesus Christ who, with his sacrifice, defeated the ancient tempter once and for all. This is why in so many paintings and statues of the Virgin Immaculate she is portrayed in the act of crushing a serpent with her foot.

“Luke the Evangelist, on the other hand, shows the Virgin Mary receiving the Annunciation of the heavenly Messenger (cf. Lk 1:26-38). She appears as the humble, authentic daughter of Israel, the true Zion in which God wishes to take up his abode. She is the shoot from which the Messiah, the just and merciful King, is to spring. In the simplicity of the house of Nazareth dwells the pure remnant of Israel from which God wants his people to be reborn, like a new tree that will spread its branches throughout the world, offering to all humanity the good fruit of salvation. Unlike Adam and Eve, Mary stays obedient to the Lord’s will; with her whole being she speaks her “yes” and makes herself entirely available to the divine plan. She is the new Eve, the true “Mother of all the living,” namely, those who because of their faith in Christ, receive eternal life” (Source: Pope Benedict XVI, Magnificat, Vol. 17, No. 10, December 2015, pp. 116-117).

Reflection 2 – The Immaculate Conception of Mary

Some people mistakenly think that the Immaculate Conception of Mary is related to her conception of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is actually a claim about the state of Mary’s soul at the moment of its creation, her “passive conception.”

Immaculate Conception is the belief that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary was from the first moment of her conception by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin…” (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus).

In today’s gospel, we find the beautiful passage of the Annunciation, where Archangel Gabriel said to Mary, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” “This indicates the exceptional holiness of the Blessed Mother. When one considers the role Mary was to play in the life of our Lord — whether His Incarnation, His Childhood, or His Crucifixion — she must be outstanding in holiness, truly “full of grace” in accepting and in fulfilling her role as the Mother of the Savior in the fullest sense of Mother. Her grace-filled holiness was from the very beginning of her life, her conception. As Christ’s Mother, we have also considered her as Mother of the Church.

When Mary’s soul was infused into the embryo in St. Anne’s womb, it was perfectly free of the consequences of original sin. Mary’s soul was free of the effects of original sin. Her sinlessness is often presented as a necessary corollary to two basic social truths: the glory of a child gives honor to the parents and the shame of a parent brings disgrace upon a child.

Our virgin’s sinlessness “builds a fence” around the sinlessness of our Lord Jesus Who is like us in all things but sin.  Mary was perfectly free of the effects of original sin as an adult, at the moment of Christ’s conception.  Over several faultless years of freely-chosen charity, Mary acquired with God’s grace the perfect purity making her a worthy vessel of God’s Son.

In a homily on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception delivered in 1982, Pope John Paul II wrote:

“Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who filled you. Virgin of Nazareth, with every spiritual blessing in Christ. In Him, you were conceived Immaculate! Pre selected to be His Mother, you were redeemed in Him and through Him more than any other human being! Preserved from the inheritance of original sin, you were conceived and came into the world in a state of sanctifying grace. Full of grace! We venerate this mystery of the faith in today’s solemnity. ”

“Today, together with all the Church, we venerate the Redemption which was actuated in you. That most singular participation in the Redemption of the world and of man, was reserved only for you, solely for you. Hail O Mary, Alma Redemptoris Mater, dear Mother of the Redeemer. ”


Our response to our Lord’s will in our lives should be like our Mother Mary’s: “May it be done to me according to your word.”


Hail! Mary full of grace! The Lord is with thee!  Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Reflection 3 – God prepared Mary

In the gospel passage just read, we heard: “Then the angel said to her: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’” A priest in New Mexico conducted a weekly Bible study with a group of scholars for several years. Those scholars were better known for their common sense, their cooking and their number of grandchildren than for their number of college degrees. Yet these scholars taught the priest far more than he ever taught them. But the scholars and the priest came to one very clear conclusion together. Every time an angel in Scripture tells you not to be afraid, you are in big trouble! God has something in mind for you to do that will not be easy.

The angel Gabriel told Mary not to be afraid, and then told Mary that she was going to have a baby. We are told by the Scripture that Mary was a virgin. She had not done anything that would cause her to have a baby. She was betrothed, which meant that she had a husband-to-be. Her husband-to-be would certainly be interested in the news Mary was going to have a baby. Mary may well have thought that she was in big trouble. But Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception offers an explanation of how Mary came to be ready to say “yes” to God. Mary had been conceived without sin. She was conceived in the normal way, but in anticipation of the role she would be asked to play as the mother of Jesus, Mary was kept free from the effects of sin from the first moment of her conception. Mary could have said, “No.” She had a real choice and her choice made a real difference. Mary could say “yes” because God had been helping her to get ready for that moment, for this news, for what God would ask Mary to do.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception also offers an explanation about something still happening today. God will never ask any of us to do anything without helping us get ready. We can say “no” to God, and God will always respect our free will. But God will always do what is necessary to help us when we say “yes” to God’s requests – just as God helped Mary.

We can be sure that God never asks any of us to do anything without some preparation. Things may seem at first a big surprise, even overwhelming. As God prepared Mary for her unique place in the human history, and God continues to prepare us and accompany us as we make our way through life. By the eyes of faith we can see that God is with us always.

When we gather around the Lord’s Table, we realize that we have found favor with God and have no need to fear! (Source: Fr. Hilarion Kistner, OFM, Editor, Homily Helps. Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, December 8, 2008).

Reflection 4 – Mary, Mother most pure

The Blessed Virgin’s role is certainly unique in salvation history. Everything that exists it’s because it was planned by God. The ultimate purpose of all creation is achieving the glory of God. And, in the creation of angels and human beings, the purpose is always to lead them to eternal happiness by living lives dedicated to loving and serving God. And the creature that does the most for achieving this purpose is the Blessed Virgin Mary.

God created human beings in order that they might achieve their eternal happiness in heaven. Without Mary our lives would be harder and our salvation more difficult. Eve, the mother of the human race failed to help us. Indeed, her sin made it harder for us to be good. But God, in his loving kindness, created for us another mother. This mother was to be raised to the heights of sainthood, a very special person so pleasing to God because she was sinless, so pleasing to him that he chose her to be his own mother. She became his mother by giving birth to the human nature of Jesus. In the 4thcentury a Church council made a solemn pronouncement that Mary is the Mother of God because she is the mother of Jesus in his human nature.

Since human beings are brothers and sisters of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin is our mother also. She is also our principal patron in heaven and our chief human model to imitate. Let us consider these three ways in which her titles of (1) mother, (2) chief heavenly patron and (3) chief model to imitate are God’s great gift to us.

First, she is our mother. Mary cares about us, because we are her children. Good mothers on earth care for all their children. And our heavenly mother Mary cares for each one of her children too. We might wonder how she can look after each of us at the same time; but God is able to make such a thing possible.

Second, Mary is our chief heavenly patron because she is the greatest of all created beings. She has more power than any other creature in heaven. And she is more motivated to help us than any other creature. That is why Catholics say the “Hail Mary” so often.

Third, Mary is also the greatest creature that we can imitate. She is the greatest of all creatures. And, since she is a human being, she points out to us what every human being should strive to imitate. We must imitate her sanctity. She never committed a sin, great or small. We must imitate her love of God and her love for human beings. Many of her virtues that we can imitate are found in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin: Mother most pure; virgin most chaste; mother most amiable; virgin most merciful; virgin most faithful; Gate of Heaven; Health of the Sick; Refuge of Sinners; Comforter of the Afflicted; and Queen of Peace.

Among the greatest prayers to Mary is one penned by St. Bernardine of Siena, an Italian Franciscan of the 15th century: “Remember, most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful, O Mother of the Word Incarnate. Despise not my petitions in my necessities but in thy mercy hear and answer me.”

This prayer indicates the recognized power of Mary’s intercession, the goodness of her heart and especially the assurance of a sinner who earnestly prays to her. Her unique role in salvation history stands out clearly. (Source: Rev. Leonard A. Kennedy, C.S.B., “Homilies on the Liturgies of Sundays and Feasts,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Vol. CIX, No. 2. New Jersey: Ignatius Press, November 2008, pp. 35-36; Suggested reading: Catechism of theCatholic Church, 2683-2690,2700-2704,2705-2719).

Reflection 5 – Mary Chosen to Help Bring Us Back to God
Today, we begin Extra-ordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  In announcing this year, Pope Francis speaks about the face of Christ as the face of mercy.  In choosing this feast as the starting date, the Pope states that God turned his gaze to Mary. “When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy.” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3)  Today, the Pope opens the holy door to allow us to receive mercy, much as Mary was the door through which Mercy himself entered the world.

Throughout his letter, the Pope constantly uses words like “face” and “gaze” and “visible.”  All of these words resonate with today’s feast.  As we hear in the first reading, after the original sin, Adam and Eve hid from God.  They did not want God to see them, and of course, this means also that they did not want to see God.  Guilt and shame make us want to hide our faces.  We do not want to be seen, we do not want to be recognized as the one who sinned.

But this is not what God wants.  He wants to see us so that he can know us.  Throughout history, God is always looking for us, as he looked for Adam and Eve. Then, he found Abraham, and called him out of his own country to make of him a new nation.  Then, he found the people of Israel in Egypt, who he called out to fulfill his promise to Abraham.  Indeed, the whole Old Testament is about how God looks for his people, a people who often hid themselves from him.

The fulfillment of God’s quest to find us is Jesus Christ—the Son of God who comes among us to show us the way to God the Father.  In Christ, we can see the face of God the Father.  In Christ, we see the face of Mercy.  At Christmas, we can gaze upon his face in the manger—the silent Word, the helpless mighty King, reaching out to us.  Throughout the year, we gaze upon his face, so moved with pity for the crowd that he teaches and feeds us.  We can gaze upon the face of Christ, as he gazes upon us with the look of love that he had for the rich young man. On Good Friday, we gaze upon his face, bearing the weight of our sin, as he suffers on the cross.  And at Easter, we look once more at the risen face, coming to us through locked doors, so that we can have peace.  The peace that only Christ can give, for his peace is mercy.  It is the forgiveness of our sins.

And this is why today’s feast is so important.  For today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  From the first moment of her existence within the womb of her mother, St. Anne, Mary was preserved from original sin.  God gave her this singular grace, so that when the fullness of time came—the time for the Son of God to become a man – there might be one person who was not hiding from God.  So that there might be one person ready to welcome him.

Mary was chosen so that God’s plan for our salvation might be accomplished. For through Mary, God’s quest to find us is being fulfilled. We can now see God the Father through seeing God the Son. The separation caused by original sin is overcome as we are united with our God through the sacraments, and hopefully in eternal life.

Mary plays a unique role in history. She, besides her Son, is the only human person without sin, so that from her, Christ could take flesh and live among us. And it is Christ’s desire that he continue to live among us, but he needs spotless vessels to make his holiness visible and clear to all.  Yet, he comes looking for us, even when we are not these spotless vessels.  Like Adam and Eve, we still want to hide from God.

Let us stop running, and turn back to him.  He already knows us as we are, yet still he looks upon us with his gaze full of mercy and love.  Let us look to him and behold his face.  We may be ashamed.  We may feel guilt.  But these only mean that God’s look of mercy shows us the greatness of his love.

Mary was immaculately conceived so that she could conceive the Word of God, and we could behold his face, the face of mercy. Let us not turn away again, but may we receive his mercy, so that we can enjoy his peace.

Read the source:

Reflection 6 – Hiding In Plain Sight

You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. –Luke 1:31

A Baltimore congregation found the answer to its financial troubles on a church wall. And it had been “hiding” there for more than 25 years! Someone finally recognized a piece of art hanging in the chapel as a valuable woodblock print by Albrecht Dürer, dated 1493. The work shows the angel telling Mary she would give birth to God’s Son.

Some members just couldn’t believe they had underestimated the value of the old masterpiece, saying in effect, “If it were real, why would it be here?”

What about us? Are we underestimating the value of the event depicted on that woodblock print?

Jesus isn’t hiding. The truth that God came to earth in human form is plainly announced in His Word. It is reflected in our art and in our hymnbooks. But the significance of Christ’s birth is still neglected. We get so wrapped up in activities and programs that we miss the immeasurable worth of knowing who that Baby was.

What’s missing is our worship. Think about the meaning of His birth. Jesus is God! He came to save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21) and give them eternal life (Jn. 3:14-18).

This Christmas, join with the wisemen and shepherds and give praise to Jesus–God who became Man.  — Mart De Haan

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace!
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race. –Wesley

Christ’s birth brought the infinite God to finite man (Source: Our Daily Bread, RBC Ministries).

Reflection 7 – Two Bethlehems

The power of the Highest will overshadow you. —Luke 1:35

The birth of Jesus Christ was unlike any other. Mary’s was an “other world” conception. The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). The child conceived in her was from outside our world. And it had to be so, because the boy born to Mary was Immanuel, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).

The baby born in Bethlehem was of heavenly origin. God had entered the earth in the form and nature of Mary’s little son. He came into the world from above, and His incarnation made possible our redemption.

Now think about it. Our own new birth-our regeneration-comes from outside the world. Jesus said that we are born again “of the Spirit” (John 3:3,7-8). Our salvation is not from an earthly source, but from God Himself through Jesus by means of His Spirit. In a sense, then, our heart becomes a “Bethlehem stable,” a place where Jesus comes into the world. We open the door to Him by faith, and He is born in us by the blessed Holy Spirit.

We make Him known to others by His power in us. He affects every aspect of our lives. We are a “Bethlehem,” His place of entrance into today’s world.  — David C. Egner

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.  -Crosby

Christ was born here below that we might be born from above (Source: Our Daily Bread, RBC Ministries).

Reflection 8 – In The Safe Hands Of God

Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” —Luke 1:38

At age 16, Madame Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717) was forced into an arranged marriage with an invalid 22 years older. She found her marriage to be one of utter humiliation. Her husband was often angry and melancholy. Her mother-in-law was a merciless critic. Even the maid despised her. In spite of her best attempts at devotion to her husband and family, she was subjected to relentless criticism.

Forbidden by her husband to attend church, she sought God in His Word and worshiped Him in secret. She learned that even in the midst of her dreary circumstances she was “perfectly fine—within the safe hands of God.” In her book Experiencing The Depths Of Jesus Christ, she wrote, “Abandonment [to Christ] is the key to the fathomless depths. Abandonment is the key to the spiritual life.”

How can we respond to difficult circumstances with acceptance and abandonment? Mary’s response to the angel in Luke 1:38 shows us. The only way to have that same attitude is to believe that God’s will is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2), and to lay down our will and patiently submit to Him day by day.

This can be our prayer: Let it be to me according to Your word.  —David H. Roper

When we’re abandoned to God’s will,
We need not doubt nor fear;
We’ll know that He is in control,
That He is always near. —Sper

He who abandons himself to God will never be abandoned by God (Source: Our Daily Bread, RBC Ministries).

Reflection 9 – The Call Of The Present

Let it be to me according to your word. —Luke 1:38

The life of the mother of Jesus was simple and plain. She did the tasks that others did at her age, learning how to be a good homemaker for her future husband. There was nothing out of the ordinary about her external life-at least not revealed in Scripture.

Yet what treasures of grace lie concealed in Mary’s attitude! When the angel announced that her child would be called “the Son of God,” she responded, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Her answer contained all that our Lord requires-the pure, simple submission of the soul to His will. This was the secret of Mary’s deep spirituality: She abandoned herself to God’s will in the present and received the grace to do what God asked of her.

What is God asking you to do? It may be something magnificent, or something ordinary. It may be to respond actively to a command of Scripture, or to submit patiently to present suffering. “What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the holiest thing that could happen to us,” commented the 18th-century writer Jean-Pierre de Caussade.

Are you able to accept each moment with grace and submission? Can you respond to the Lord as Mary said to the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word”?  — David H. Roper

May we learn the blessed secret
Of delighting in Your will,
Welcoming whate’er You send us,
Joy or sorrow, good or ill.  -Anon.

To know God’s will is a treasure; to do God’s will is a privilege (Source: Our Daily Bread, RBC Ministries).

Reflection 10 – The Main Event

You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. –Luke 1:31

During the Great Depression that hit the United States in the 1930s, a family in the Midwest struggled to put food on their table. They had no money for luxuries.

One day posters all over town announced that a circus was coming. Admission would be $1. A boy in the family wanted to see the show, but his father told him that he would have to earn the money on his own. The youngster had never seen a circus before, so he worked feverishly and was able to buy a ticket.

On the day the circus arrived, he went to see the performers and the animals parade through town. As he watched, a clown came dancing over to him, and the boy put his ticket in the clown’s hand. Then he stood on the curb and cheered as the rest of the parade moved by.

The youngster rushed home to tell his parents what he had seen and how exciting the circus was. His father listened, then took his son in his arms and said, “Son, you didn’t see the circus. All you saw was the parade.”

That story is a parable of Christmas. Many people get excited about the festivities but miss the main event. During this season, let’s remember what happened in a humble stable and what Jesus’ birth means to us.  — Haddon W. Robinson

There’s colorful wrapping and tinsel and greening,
Stores crowded with shoppers, so much to be done!
But how many sense a real spiritual meaning,
Or feel sincere worship for God’s precious Son? –Donovan

Christ is the reason for the Season (Source: Our Daily Bread, RBC Ministries).

Reflection 11 – The grace that protects us from sin

Today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We celebrate the awesome miracle that God the Father granted to his specially prepared daughter so that she could become the mother of God the Son. We celebrate the all-knowing nature of God, who planned ahead for Mary’s participation in salvation history, knowing – before her conception – that she would choose to say yes in faith.

We celebrate the Holy Spirit, Giver of Life, who prepared a holy womb for the conception of Jesus’ human nature by first creating Mary without the effects of Original Sin. As a new Eve, her conception was “immaculate” (untainted by Original Sin), because Jesus, who is fully divine and perfectly holy, could not grow in the womb of a sinner. Only later, when he had complete control over his decision as an adult, could he join himself to the sins of the human race.

We celebrate Mary’s motherhood. In today’s reading from Genesis chapter 3, we see Eve become the mother of all the living, but she sins and she passes this sinfulness onto all generations. In the Gospel reading, Mary becomes the Second Eve, saying yes – through faith empowered by grace – to the vocation of becoming the mother of the only one who could redeem us from sin. Thus, Mary becomes the mother of all those who share in this faith, all those who want to be redeemed from sin and who want to give birth to Jesus in others.

We also celebrate the Church’s official pronouncement of Mary’s immaculate conception, which Pope Pius IX made official in 1854. Because this occurred in recent history, it seems like an “invention” of Catholicism, but Christians have understood this dogma and taught it to each other since the early days of the Church. Pius IX merely drew special attention to it, because the world’s influences had been eroding belief in this ancient dogma.

The idea that Mary could be conceived without bondage to Original Sin, and the related idea that Mary could spend her entire life free of sin, is not a glorification of her. It’s a glorification of God, who filled her with grace in order to protect her in a special way, to strengthen her faith, and to enable her to resist temptation throughout her life. “Let it be done to me according to your word” was not a sudden or temporary leap of faith for Mary; it was her life-long attitude. The power that enabled her to fulfill this desire came straight from the Holy Spirit as a gift of grace.

Grace is a gift, pure gift. Grace is God’s power received as a gift when we need it, regardless of what we do or don’t do. Placing ourselves into God’s grace, however, does depend on what we do. We were given this grace by baptism, but when we sin, we remove ourselves from the state of grace. We cannot sin and remain in God’s good graces.

When we repent, God’s mercy restores us to his grace. When we rely on this grace at the moment of temptation, we overcome the sin and we are restored to the peace of Christ.

(For a classroom handout on this, see

Reflection 12 – Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

A feast called the Conception of Mary arose in the Eastern Church in the seventh century. It came to the West in the eighth century. In the 11th century it received its present name, the Immaculate Conception. In the 18th century it became a feast of the universal Church. It is now recognized as a solemnity.

In 1854, Pius IX solemnly proclaimed: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

It took a long time for this doctrine to develop. While many Fathers and Doctors of the Church considered Mary the greatest and holiest of the saints, they often had difficulty in seeing Mary as sinless—either at her conception or throughout her life. This is one of the Church teachings that arose more from the piety of the faithful than from the insights of brilliant theologians. Even such champions of Mary as Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas could not see theological justification for this teaching.

Two Franciscans, William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus, helped develop the theology. They pointed out that Mary’s Immaculate Conception enhances Jesus’ redemptive work. Other members of the human race are cleansed from original sin after birth. In Mary, Jesus’ work was so powerful as to prevent original sin at the outset.


In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel, speaking on God’s behalf, addresses Mary as “full of grace” (or “highly favored”). In that context this phrase means that Mary is receiving all the special divine help necessary for the task ahead. However, the Church grows in understanding with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led the Church, especially non-theologians, to the insight that Mary had to be the most perfect work of God next to the Incarnation. Or rather, Mary’s intimate association with the Incarnation called for the special involvement of God in Mary’s whole life. The logic of piety helped God’s people to believe that Mary was full of grace and free of sin from the first moment of her existence. Moreover, this great privilege of Mary is the highlight of all that God has done in Jesus. Rightly understood, the incomparable holiness of Mary shows forth the incomparable goodness of God.


“[Mary] gave to the world the Life that renews all things, and she was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.

“It is no wonder, then, that the usage prevailed among the holy Fathers whereby they called the mother of God entirely holy and free from all stain of sin, fashioned by the Holy Spirit into a kind of new substance and new creature. Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the splendors of an entirely unique holiness, the Virgin of Nazareth is, on God’s command, greeted by an angel messenger as ‘full of grace’ (cf. Luke 1:28). To the heavenly messenger she replies: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word’ (Luke 1:38)” (Vatican II,

Patron Saint of: Brazil, United States

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Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Immaculate Conception anonymous CTB-2006-30.jpg

Mary’s holy and immaculate conception, Carmen Thyssen Museum Anonymous, Oil on canvas.
Observed by Roman Catholic Church
Significance Belief in the most pure and sinless conception of the Blessed Virgin Marywithout Original Sin
Celebrations Festive pageantry, grand fireworks, cultural dancing, ethnic foods
Observances Mass and other liturgical celebrations
Date December 8
Next time 8 December 2015
Frequency annual
Related to Nativity of Mary

A modern statue of the Immaculate Conception atop a public square in the main street of Košice, Slovakia.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the solemn belief in the Immaculate Conception of theBlessed Virgin Mary. It is universally celebrated on December 8, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on September 8. It is one of the most important Marian feasts celebrated in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church celebrated worldwide.

By Pontifical designation and decree, it is the patronal feast day of Argentina, Brazil, Korea, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, Spain, the United States and Uruguay. By royal decree, it is also designated by as the Patroness of Portugal. It is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church as well as a few other closely related Christian churches.

On this day since 1854, the Holy See through the Sacred Congregation of Rites grants the Spanish crown the expressed privilege of permitting blue vestments for their present and former territories.[1] Since 1953, the Popeas Bishop of Rome visits the Column of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna to offer expiatory prayers commemorating the solemn event.

The feast was first solemnized as a Holy Day of Obligation[2] on 6 December 1708 under the Papal Bull Commissi Nobis Divinitus[3][4] by Pope Clement XI[5] and is often celebrated with Holy Mass, parades, fireworks, processions, ethnic foods, and cultural festivities in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is generally considered a Family day, especially in many Catholic countries.


The Eastern Christian Church first celebrated a “Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God” on December 9, perhaps as early as the 5th century in Syria. The original title of the feast focused more specifically on Serming it “Bòśšôm tes hagias kai theoprometoros Annas” (“The Conception of Saint Anne, the ancestress of God”).[6] By the 7th century, the feast was already widely known in the East. However, when the Eastern Church called Mary achrantos (“spotless” or “immaculate”), this was not defined.

At present time, the majority of Orthodox Christians do not accept the scholastic definition of Mary’s preservation from original sin before her birth that subsequently evolved in the Western Church after the Great Schism of 1054.[7] After the feast was translated to the Western Church in the 8th century, it began to be celebrated on December 8. It spread from the Byzantine area of Southern Italy to Normandy during the period of Norman dominance over southern Italy. From there it spread to England, France, Germany, and eventually Rome.[8]

In 1568, Pope Pius V revised the Roman Breviary and though the Franciscans were allowed to retain the Office and Mass written by Bernardine dei Busti, this office was dropped for the rest of the Church and the office of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin was substituted instead, the word “Conception” being substituted for “Nativity.”[9]

According to the Papal Bull Commissi Nobis Divinitus, dated 6 December 1708, Pope Clement XI mandated the feast as a day of Solemnity and a Holy Day of Obligation which is to be celebrated in future years by the faithful.[10] Furthermore, the pontiff requested that the papal bull be notarized in the Vatican to be further copied and reproduced for dissemination.

Prior to Pope Pius IX‘s definition of the Immaculate Conception as a Roman Catholic dogma in 1854, most missals referred to it as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The festal texts of this period focused more on the action of her conception than on the theological question of her preservation from original sin. A missal published in England in 1806 indicates the same collect for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was used for this feast as well.[11]

The first move towards describing Mary’s conception as “immaculate” came in the 11th century. In the 15th century Pope Sixtus IV, while promoting the festival, explicitly tolerated both the views of those who promoted it as the Immaculate Conception and those who challenged such a description, a position later endorsed by the Council of Trent.[6]

The proper for the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Medieval Sarum Missal, perhaps the most famous in England, merely addresses the fact of her conception.

The collect for the feast reads:

O God, mercifully hear the supplication of thy servants who are assembled together on the Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, may at her intercession be delivered by Thee from dangers which beset us.[12]

In 1854, Pius IX made the infallible statement Ineffabilis Deus: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”[13]

When December 8 falls on Sunday the feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on 9 December.

Cultural impact[edit]

The feast is a public holiday in Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guam, Italy, Liechtenstein, Macau, Malta, Monaco, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, San Marino, Seychelles, Spain, Vatican City, Venezuela, and in the Catholic Cantons of Switzerland.[14] Some countries do not observe December 8 as a public holiday, but their respective Episcopal Conferences have declared the day as a Holy Day of Obligation in, for example, Ireland, the Philippines, and the United States.

December 8 is also celebrated as Mother’s Day in Panama in honor of the holiday and is therefore a national holiday.

The University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, celebrates “Christmas on Campus” on December 8 in conjunction with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In Leon, Nicaragua, the feast is celebrated with a tradition called Griteria composed of grand parades, fireworks, songs and various religious activities related to the conception of the Virgin Mary and her maternal role in Roman Catholicism. Similar practices are observed in various other Catholic countries.

Pope Pius IX granted the privilege of allowing blue vestments for Cuba on 5 May 1862. Pope Leo XIII accorded the privilege of blue vestments for Peru on a papal document dated 25 September 1891. Several petitions were submitted to the Holy See to use blue vestments for other feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an abuse considered by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, thus was ruled against in 15 February 1902.

In the Spanish colonial district of Intramuros in Manila, Philippines, the day is marked with a religious and military parade called the Grand Marian Procession, held annually by the Cofradía de la Inmaculada Concepción. Over a hundred Santos of the Virgin Mary in her various titles are borne in a procession that culminates in the Plaza de Roma fronting Manila Cathedral (which is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception). Pope Pius X issued a papal bull granting the privilege for the Philippines to use blue vestments on 11 February 1910. The bull was signed and executed by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val.

Anglican Communion[edit]

In the Church of England, the “Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary” may be observed as a Lesser Festival on 8 December. The situation in other constituent churches of the Anglican Communion is similar, e.g., as a lesser commemoration.[15] Many Anglo-Catholic parishes observe the feast using the traditional Roman Catholic title, the “Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary”.

Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]

While the Eastern Orthodox Churches have never accepted the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception, they do celebrate December 9 as the Feast of the Conception by St. Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos. While the Orthodox believe that the Virgin Mary was, from her conception, filled with every grace of theHoly Spirit, in view of her calling as the Mother of God, they do not teach that she was conceived without original sin as their understanding of this doctrine differs from the Roman Catholic articulation.[16] The Orthodox do affirm that Mary is “all-holy” and never committed a personal sin during her lifetime.[citation needed]

The Orthodox feast is not a perfect nine months before the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8) as it is in the West, but a day later. This feast is not ranked among the Great Feasts of the church year, but is a lesser-ranking feast (Polyeleos).

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up^
  2. Jump up^ Clementis XI, Papam – CXX – Mandatur ut Festum Conceptionis beatae Mariae Virginis Immaculatae de praecepto ubique observetur – Commissi Nobis Divinitus sacrosancti apostolatus officii exigit ratio, ut gloriossimae Virginis Dei genitricis Mariae cuius Conceptio gaudium annuciavit universo mundo, venerationem et cultum, plurium Romanorum Pontificum praedecessorum nostrorum more, ampliare studentes in terris, illius, quae super choros angelorum exaltata pro populo Christiano sedula exoratrix apud eum, quem genuit, assidue intercedit in caelis, potentissimam opem in toltantisque, quibus premimur, Christianae reipublicae et Catholicae Ecclesiae necessitatibus, quantum nobis ex alto conceditur, promereri iugiter satagamus. Datum Romae, apud Sanctum Petrum, sub annulo Piscatoris, die 6 Decembris 1708 Pontificatus Nostri Anno IX. – 338)
  3. Jump up^ Encyclopedia of Christian Theology
  4. Jump up^ “Teachings of the Popes and Councils on the Blessed Virgin Mary”
  5. Jump up^ De Maria Numquam Satis: The Significance of the Catholic Doctrines on the Blessed Virgin Mary for All People, Judith Marie Gentle, Robert L. Fastiggi eds., University Press of America, 2009, ISBN 9780761848479
  6. ^ Jump up to:a b Holweck, Frederick. “Immaculate Conception.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 23 Aug. 2014
  7. Jump up^ Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos). The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin Books, 1963), pp. 263-264.
  8. Jump up^ Francis X. Weiser. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958), p. 292.
  9. Jump up^ Habig O.F.M., Marion A. “Land of Mary Immaculate”, The American Ecclesiastical Review, June 1954
  10. Jump up^ Commissi Nobis Divinitus – VI Decembris 1708 – Clementis XI, Papam – Sincera itaque nostra erga eamdem augustissimam caeli reginam, patronam, advocatam, nostram, devotione incitati festum conceptionis ipsius beatae mariae virginis immaculatae ubique terrarum in posterum ab omnibus et singulis utriusque sexus christifidelibus sicut alia festa de praecepto observationis festorum comprehendi auctoritate apostolica, tenore praesentium decernimus praecipimus et mandamus. …Volumus autem ut earumdem praesentium literrarum transumptis, seu exemplis etiam impressis, manu alicuius notarii publici subscriptis, et sigillo personae in ecclesiastica dignitate constitutae munitis, eadem prorsus fides adhibeatur ipsis praesentibus si forent exhibitae vel ostensae.
  11. Jump up^ The Roman Missal in English Tr. John England (Philadelphia: Eugene Chummiskey, 1843), p. 529.
  12. Jump up^ The Sarum Missal in English Tr. A. Harford Pearson (London: The Church Printing Co., 1834), p. 332.
  13. Jump up^ Ineffabilis Deus the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1854), in the Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. 1, p. 615.
  14. Jump up^ Earth Calendar
  15. Jump up^
  16. Jump up^ Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, 1963, ISBN 0-14-020592-6), pp. 263-4.

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