by Steve DeLaney
“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.”
(Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854)
“Mary gave to the world the Life that renews all things…”
(Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 56).
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus, without sin. Often misunderstood to mean the conception of Jesus, this feast invites us to reflect upon the mystery of how Christ’s love can change our lives.
In the 7th and 8th centuries, a feast called the Conception of Mary became popular among common people in the Christian world. In the 11th century it received its present name, the Immaculate Conception. Interestingly, this is one of the Church teachings that arose out of the piety of the faithful rather than from the insights of theologians. The Holy Spirit worked among the people of God, and the Church, in 1854, officially recognized the Immaculate Conception as a feast of the universal Church. It is now recognized as a solemnity, which is a feast day of the highest order.
In the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel, speaking on God’s behalf, addresses Mary as “full of grace.” Mary, in her profound “yes” to the work of God, becomes the vessel of the Incarnation. Like all of us, Mary is saved from sin by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Her proximity to Christ, and her openness to God’s will in her life, were so profound that they extended throughout her life, even to her conception.
Mary said “Yes” to God with her whole life. She is the perfect example of the Christian life, one who gives her life entirely to God. As we celebrate this feast, we are invited to meditate on how completely Mary assented to God’s work in her life, and to pray that we too may be open to “bearing Christ” into the world.