The Feast of the Immaculate Conception – 8 December
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the solemn belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a Solemnity and is universally celebrated on 8 December, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on 8 September. It is one of the most important Marian feasts 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 Protestant 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. Since 1953, the Pope as 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 on 6 December 1708 under the Papal Bull Commissi Nobis Divinitus by Pope Clement XI and is often celebrated with Holy Mass, parades, fireworks, processions, ethnic foods and cultural festivities in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is generally considered a Family day, especially in many Catholic countries.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is the subject of a lot of misconceptions (so to speak). Perhaps the most common one, held even by many Catholics, is that it celebrates the conception of Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That the feast occurs only 17 days before Christmas should make the error obvious! We celebrate another feast—the Annunciation of the Lord—on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas. It was at the Annunciation, when the Blessed Virgin Mary humbly accepted the honour bestowed on her by God and announced by the angel Gabriel, that the conception of Christ took place.
HISTORY OF THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in its oldest form, goes back to the seventh century, when churches in the East began celebrating the Feast of the Conception of Saint Anne, the mother of Mary. In other words, this feast celebrates the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of Saint Anne; and nine months later, on 8 September we celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The feast arrived in the West probably no earlier than the 11th century and at that time, it began to be tied up with a developing theological controversy. Both the Eastern and the Western Church had maintained that Mary was free from sin throughout her life but there were different understandings of what this meant.
What Is the Immaculate Conception?
DEVELOPMENT OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
Because of the doctrine of Original Sin, some in the West began to believe that Mary could not have been sinless unless she had been saved from Original Sin at the moment of her conception (thus making the conception “immaculate”). Others, however, including St Thomas Aquinas, argued that Mary could not have been redeemed if she had not been subject to sin—at least, to Original Sin.
The answer to St Thomas Aquinas’s objection, as Blessed John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) showed, was that God had sanctified Mary at the moment of her conception in His foreknowledge that the Blessed Virgin would consent to bear Christ. In other words, she too had been redeemed—her redemption had simply been accomplished at the moment of her conception, rather than (as with all other Christians) in Baptism.
Who Was Born Without Original Sin?
SPREAD OF THE FEAST IN THE WEST
After Duns Scotus’s defense of the Immaculate Conception, the feast spread throughout the West, though it was still often celebrated at the Feast of the Conception of Saint Anne. On 28 February 1476, Pope Sixtus IV extended the feast to the entire Western Church, and in 1483 threatened with excommunication those who opposed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. By the middle of the 17th century, all opposition to the doctrine had died out in the Catholic Church.