The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin MaryDecember 9th, 2013
December 8: Patronal Feast Day of the United States of America
On December 8 each year we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A solemnity is the highest ranking feast day on our liturgical calendar, and this particular feast day is also a holy day of obligation. And yet the Immaculate Conception might be the most misunderstood of all our feast days. If you were to poll Catholics as to what we are celebrating on this feast day, most would respond that we are celebrating Mary’s conception of Jesus. But this is incorrect! We are actually celebrating the conception of Mary, herself, by her mother, Saint Anne.
Do the Math
The liturgical calendar, itself, can help us understand this better. There are only three births we celebrate in our Church Year: Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist. And if you look at the liturgical calendar, you will see that we celebrate the birth of Mary (The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary) on September 8. Now do the math. Exactly nine months before we celebrate Mary’s birth we celebrate her conception! You can read more about this feast day and the story of Saint Anne’s conception of Mary in this Immaculate Conception handout.
Signs and Symbols
There is a famous tapestry in the Reims Cathedral which is made up of fifteen tableaux connected to Mary’s life. Tableaux VI, “The Perfection of Mary”, is full of symbols regarding Mary’s Immaculate Conception. View this tapestry and learn more about it’s symbolism at the University of Dayton’s Mary Page here.
There is also a room at the Vatican filled with frescoes about the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the proclamation of this dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854. You can learn more about this from the video below.
“The Story of Mary, the Mother of God” (ISBN 0-88141-205-8) is a children’s story in the Greek Orthodox tradition, written and illustrated by Dorrie Papademetriou. This book tells the story of Mary’s conception, birth, and life based on the “Protoevangelium of James.” The illustrations in this book are inspired by the famous frescoes of Mary’s life at the Chora Monastery in Turkey. You can view the actual frescoes here.
Ways to Celebrate
As the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a holy day of obligation, Catholics will celebrate Mass on this day. At Mass, listen carefully to the readings for today. Reflect especially on how Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation reversed the “no” or disobedience of Adam and Eve when they ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Invite children to create a diptych with one panel illustrating the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and the other Mary’s obedience to the will of God. Children could either display this work of art, or even choose to give it as a Christmas gift this year.
Immaculate Conception prayer cards are available for purchase from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Another recent USCCB resource available for purchase, which is very appropriate for parishes to use on this feast day, is the “Rite for Blessing of a Child in the Womb”.
In your prayer today, include the hymn, “Immaculate Mary.” If you were going to compose a hymn or a poem to Mary on this feast of the Immaculate Conception, what words would you use? Make these words part of your prayer today, as well.
Mary is a wonderful model of faith, not only during the Advent and Christmas Seasons, but always. Boston College has a two-part Marian web search, “Portrait of Mary”, for high school age youth and adults. Part 1 is Miriam of Nazareth, and Part 2 is Model of Faith.