Next Feast of the Immaculate ConceptionSunday, 8 December 2024
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, also known as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, is a Catholic observance on December 8.
It is a common misbelief that The Immaculate Conception is the doctrine of Mary's pregnancy and her conception of Jesus by divine means. This however is not the case, and the doctrine of immaculate conception involves beliefs about Mary's own birth and divinity.
The Immaculate Conception celebrates the belief that Mary was conceived free of original sin, and as such, it is commemorated nine months before Mary's birth date on September 8. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is one of the most important feasts celebrated by the Catholic Church.
Many people also confuse this holiday with the Feast of Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she was carrying the son of God, but that particular holiday takes place nine months before Christmas, on March 25.
There are records of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception being celebrated in Syria by the Eastern Christian Church as early as the 5th century. It was originally observed on December 9. The commemoration spread to the West in the 8th century, when the Western Church changed the day of the observance to December 8.
In 1708, Pope Clement XI designated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as a Holy Day of Obligation, as it has remained until today. In 1854, Pope Pius IX released the Apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus, formally defining the dogma for this holiday, and reinforcing its importance in the Catholic Church.
What was the Immaculate Conception?
The Catholic belief around the conception of the Virgin Mary is based on the translation of a word used in the New Testament: 'Kecharitomene' in Greek. This is found in the Gospel of Luke "The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28). Kecharitomene is the past tense of Charitoo translated as highly favored, or sometimes as full of grace. As the word is formed in a past tense here, the implication is that the action had already begun, and therefore Mary had already been filled with grace prior to meeting the Angel.
The theory that Mary could have already been filled with grace led to hundreds of years of discussion and debate within the church concerning the timeline of when and how she first became blessed. This led eventually to the idea that she had been filled with God's grace from before she was born.
The Apocryphal scriptures such as The Gospel of St. James talk about Mary's parents; Saint Anne, and Saint Joachim, who were infertile but prayed to God for a child. God answered their prayers, and so Mary was conceived, free of sin and without intercourse.
Mary, according to Catholic theology, escaped original sin: the doctrine that every human being is born with sin inherited from Adam. This is a result of being born through the Grace of God. Mary was given singular grace and privilege, and by carrying Jesus Christ she too is the Savior of the human race, free from any original and personal sin.
How to observe the Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Like in many other countries, December 8 is a holy day of obligation in the United States. This means that it is mandatory for all Catholics to attend Mass on that day. Special services and prayers are held on that day, in honor of the Immaculate Conception.
If December 8 falls on a Saturday or Monday, there is still a service and people are still expected to observe Mass on Sunday, meaning that they will have to attend Mass two days in a row.