I couldn’t let another feast day go by without giving you a little edu-ma-cation. Without further-ado, Catechesis on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I highly advise you to read this before you go to Mass, unless other factors prevent you otherwize:
When? Usually the 2nd Week of Advent, December the 8th annually in both the NO and the EF calendars.
Whom? Mary Blessed Mother of Jesus, St. Anne (Mary’s Mother who birthed her), and St. Joachim, Mary’s father.
Here’s what the Catechism of the Church says on the matter.
The Immaculate Conception
490 To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.”132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”.133 In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.
491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
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, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.135
492 The “splendour of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”.136 The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love”.137
493 The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God “the All-Holy” (Panagia), and celebrate her as “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature”.138 By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.
“Let it be done to me according to your word. . .”
494 At the announcement that she would give birth to “the Son of the Most High” without knowing man, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded with the obedience of faith, certain that “with God nothing will be impossible”: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.”139 Thus, giving her consent to God’s word, Mary becomes the mother of Jesus. Espousing the divine will for salvation wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with him and dependent on him, by God’s grace:140
As St. Irenaeus says, “Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.”141 Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert. . .: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.”142 Comparing her with Eve, they call Mary “the Mother of the living” and frequently claim: “Death through Eve, life through Mary.”143 (1)
That’s a lot eh? Maybe a shorter, better explanation will be more suitable for you. Here’s the introduction taken from the variable prayers and passages that fit the Extraordinary Form mass of that day in the 1962 Roman Missal for the Laity:
“ I will put enmities between thee and the woman.” In these words the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was announced to the first parents. It was to be the reversal of the friendship with the serpent contracted by Eve, when she listened to his voice and fell under his power. The second Eve was never to be under the power of the devil; the enmity between them was to admit of no possible exception. This involved the grace of being conceived immaculate. Mary’s Immaculate Conception was the foundation of all her graces. The absence of any stain or spot of sin distinguished her from all the rest of mankind. It distinguished her from holiest of the Saints, since they, one and all, were sinners. Her perfect sinlessness was the source of all her glory and all her majesty; it was this which opened the door to the unlimited graces that she received from God; it was this that qualified her for her divine maternity and raised her to her throne as Queen of heaven. “O Queen, conceive without original sin, pray for us, who have recourse to thee.” “(2)
Key Points And Notes on the Matter
1. THIS IS ONE OF THE TWO OCCASIONS IN THE CHURCH’s HISTORY THAT THE CHURCH HAS USED ITS INFALLIBILITY EX CATHEDRA IN A MATTER OF DOGMA!!!!!
http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius09/p9ineff.htm – Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX on Dec 8, 1854.
The only other instance of ex cathedra use of the power of infallibility is for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, this ex Cathedra announcement means a binding consequence amongst Roman Catholics: This is dogma pronounced publically and therefore MUST BE OBEYED by all practicing Catholics. To publically dissent from this means you are NOT Catholic and can get you excommunicated via apostasy (giving up the Christian Faith) though it could possibly be heresy (beliefs contrary to dogma of the faith, though usually clergy or high level people get this title), that is if you want to go about things rashly and proclaim denial to everyone and anyone you meet. Sure there are Catholics who don’t believe this and you probably know them, but hopefully they keep this to themselves and don’t try to encourage others to dis-believe. But if clergy do not believe this, you have every right as a Catholic by canon law to report this up the chain of command.
DISCLAIMER: If someone does not believe in the immaculate conception, do keep in mind that a number of Catholics today are poorly educated by the developed world’s current cathechesis programs, youth ministries, RCIA programs etc. Most parishes outside of RCIA for converts do not focus on any form of Catholic faith education past Confirmation age. If any education is granted it is usually through a separate/Catholic publically (a.k.a. secular government) funded system which can interdict its authority into what is taught, and rarely will a high schooler get a decent chance at Catholic education via private Catholic school. Do be wary of this and try to get to the bottom of the persons disbelief first before tightening your grip alright?
2. IN CANADA, This is unfortunately not a holy day of obligation. However, as always the Catechism says …
2177 The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life. “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.”110
“Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension of Christ, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christi, the feast of Mary the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, the feast of Saint Joseph, the feast of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and the feast of All Saints.”111 (3)
3. I would consider this the most important point to tell people today: Many people think that this day refers to Jesus being conceived without original sin. THIS IS WRONG. This day refers to Mary being conceived into the world without original sin so as to be an appropriate vessel to birth our God as the Word Made Flesh, as Jesus.
So, as a final note, I encourage everyone to attend Mass today if they can do it. While in many countries it is not a day of obligation (thanks to their Bishop’s Conferences) do go to a Mass today. It will be that more spiritually rewarding to the Lord as you are going on your own free will and not cause an authority dictated you to go. EF parishes everywhere (and lay associations that set up EFs) will always have some mass on a feast day. As for Novus Ordos, some will likely have an evening Mass after work to go to. Worst case scenario, try to get to the morning mass, especially if its before work (if you can make it, and usually weekday NO’s are shorter than Sunday. That or priests tend not to “pull out all the stops” as it were on the weekdays”).
Proverbs 8:22-35 and Matthew 5:1-12
Genesis 3:9-15,20, Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38
Other Sources for your Interest:
Holweck, Frederick. “Immaculate Conception.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 9 Dec. 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07674d.htm>.
Catholic Answers. “Immaculate Conception and Assumption.” Online. Available:
<http://www.catholic.com/library/Immaculate_Conception_and_Assum.asp>. 9 Dec 2010.
Works Cited according to the MLA Sytle Manual, 5th Ed.:
(1) “The Immaculate Conception.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church. LIBERIA EDITRICE VATICANA, 1994, for the English translation in Canada. 1994.
(2) “December 8, The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The Daily Missal and Liturgical Missal with Vespers For Sundays and Feasts From the Editio Typica of the Roman Missal and Breviary, 1962 With Supplements Containing The Additional Masses for Englang and Wales, Scotland, United States and Australasia. Summorum Pontificum Edition. 2009.
(3) “The Sunday Eucharist.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church. LIBERIA EDITRICE VATICANA, 1994, for the English translation in Canada. 1994.