The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is an important for the United States. At the Sixth Provincial council of Baltimore in May 17, 1846 the Bishops proclaimed Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as the principal patroness of the entire country. That was eight years before Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary a Doctrine of the Church. There are both Old and New Testament passages that support this doctrine as well as ancient church writings, the most prominent being from the Council of Ephesus in 431. The U.S. Bishops believed that Mary would be the most fitting patron of our then relatively young nation. The Catholic Church itself was young and Catholics were being discriminated against. Out of a strong Marian devotion and belief that our nation needed motherly protection, they adopted Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, as our patroness. It was, no doubt, from the long tradition of belief in the Immaculate Conception and actions like those of the United States Bishops that led the Holy Father to make it an official doctrine of the Church.
When we look at this feast it is probably good for us to use the full title; “The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” It is a common error for people to think of the Immaculate Conception as referring to the Conception of Jesus, rather than Mary. The Immaculate Conception of Mary was not a virginal conception but was very special. Pope Pius IX wrote in his proclamation, “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.”
Mary was conceived without sin just as Adam and Eve were created without sin. All three were “full of grace” and had a free will and the ability to sin. Our first parents chose to sin while Mary chose to be faithful. The first reading from Genesis tells of the aftermath of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. They were no longer “full of grace” and consequently tried to hide from God. The Gospel tells of the sinlessness of Mary for when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her he said, “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Mary was conceived without sin and maintained her sinless state, and thus was “full of grace.”
Mary is a model of holiness and faithfulness to us, as well as our advocate at the throne of Jesus. Her faith in and influence on Jesus is evident in the account of the wedding feast of Cana. She had faith that Jesus would answer her request to help the couple at their reception, and even though Jesus’ initial response did not sound hopeful, her follow up instructions to the waiters, “do whatever he tells you.” Tells us of her faith and the power of her prayers.
We were conceived with the Original Sin we inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve, but through the death and resurrection of the Son of God and Son of Mary, Jesus, we were set free from Original Sin on our day of Baptism. Unfortunately, most of us have sinned since our Baptism and struggle with being faithful to the Lord. Mary is our model of faithfulness and intercedes for us. She is the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of Mercy, and so much more. As we celebrate her Immaculate Conception let us turn to Mary to help us be free from sin and lead us to everlasting life.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Image: Brother Xavier O’Mara, O.S.B., Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica