The Immaculate Conception

Today, December 8th, is ordinarily observed as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, usually a Holy Day of Obligation, and in any case, the national feast day of the United States of America. Since the early part of the 19th century, our nation has been dedicated to Our Lady under that title – that is, even from before the time that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined!

Since the feast falls on a Sunday this year, it is displaced until tomorrow and the obligation to attend Mass is suspended. Although it would be a very good idea to go to Mass as if it were a Holy Day of Obligation on Monday anyhow. But it is not required.

The Church around the corner from where I live – the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles – decorates very beautifully for the Immaculate Conception every year. Each night for nine days leading up to the feast there are novena prayers and a special Mass celebrated by a Cardinal. Being that the Franciscans have custody of that church, and the Franciscans were very formidable in promoting devotion to Our Lady under this title (especially in their evangelization of the New World), it is a very beloved celebration in that basilica.

All the chandeliers lit, lots of candles, relics of the Apostles out on the high altar, the image of Our Lady draped above the altar, etc. Very nice.

A scripture verse to consider on this feast day:

“You are all beautiful, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you.”
– Song of Songs 4:7

These words from the Old Testament have long been understood as applying to our Blessed Mother. “Tota pulchra es” – you are all beautiful; “et macula non est in te” — and there is no blemish in you.

As beautiful as this scripture passage is, though, it doesn’t really explain to us what this doctrine means.

Tota pulchra es, et macula non est in te.

For a “quick and easy” explanation, we can turn to a Franciscan, Blessed Duns Scotus, a 13th century theologian and philosopher, who is remembered for popularizing the following formula (in Latin) with regard to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception: “Potuit. Decuit. Ergo, fecit.” – It was fitting; God could do it; therefore He did it.

Indeed, though there are many proofs that we can give for Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception from the history of Catholic teaching, from Revelation, and so forth, perhaps this summary from the writing of Bl. Duns Scotus is the simplest and easiest to understand: after all, why wouldn’t Christ honor his own mother in the highest degree possible? He could do it, it was fitting, and so he did it! It was fitting that our Blessed Mother should be preserved from all stain of sin from the first moment of her conception, so that she would be “all beautiful”, a fitting mother of the Messiah; a fitting mother of God!

Even though Our Lady was immaculately conceived and never once sinned – even in the slightest – at any point in her life, yet this does not mean that she is on some pedestal and unwilling to approach us in our misery. Her greatest wish is that we should join her in heaven, gathered around her divine Son for all eternity. And so she is all too willing to descend to our lowliness, and enter into our messy lives, and help us to clean things up. While we did not have an immaculate beginning, we can have an immaculate ending, with her powerful help.

So on this great and most beloved feast day, we ask her to indeed help us, as we again entrust ourselves to her. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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