Today, December 8th, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. For Catholics, it is a holy day of obligation (meaning Catholics must make an effort to attend Mass today, under penalty of sin). For non-Catholics, it is a point of confusion and debate.
Most non-Catholics (as well as many Catholics) can get mixed-up about terminology and definitions of similar words, regarding what this day is all about. It is generally assumed (forgive the Marian pun) that the Immaculate Conception means that Jesus was immaculately conceived in Mary’s womb. (Sadly, the Mass readings for today do not help dispel this misunderstanding.)
This is not accurate.
The conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb is actually referred to as the Incarnation – when the Word of God became flesh (Latin: carne) – and is generally thought to have happened at the Annunciation (when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary – Luke 1:26-38). This is why the Church celebrates the Incarnation on March 25th, 9 months before Christmas.
So, what is this solemnity that we celebrate just 17 days before Christmas? It is the fact that Mary, the Mother of God, was herself conceived immaculate in her mother’s womb. But what does “immaculate” mean? It can’t mean a virgin birth, because only Jesus was conceived and born that way.
It means that when Joachim and Anne (Mary’s parents) cooperated with God in bringing a new life into the world, God set this one particular child to be separate (one of the connotations of the word “holy”) from all other descendants of Adam and Eve, in that she would be born without the stain of Original Sin. By this extraordinary act of divine intervention, the Mother of God would be an absolutely pure vessel by which the pure Light of Men could enter the world. Since Jesus is the unblemished Lamb of God, and Mary is His only natural parent (His sinless flesh came from her alone), it is only logical that she too had to be completely pure, even from her conception in her mother’s womb.
There is obviously much more to be said and read and learned about this. Therefore, Catholic or not, I would recommend that you go to Mass today (not just because you’ll go to hell if you don’t!), so you can hear and see firsthand what this sacred, historic event means to Catholics today. Here is a list of places you can go today to learn more:
- St. Maximilian Kolbe – 6:30pm (English), 7:30pm (Spanish)
- St. Joseph – 7:00pm
- Most Precious Blood – 7:30pm (English in the cafeteria; Spanish in the gym)
- St. Isaac Jogues – 6:00pm (English), 7:30pm (Spanish)
- Sts. Peter & Paul – 7:00pm
- Good Shepherd – 6:30pm (English), 8:00pm (Spanish)
- Blessed Trinity – 7:30pm (Spanish)
- St. Margaret Mary – 6:30pm
- St. Mary Magdalen – 7:00pm
- Annunciation – 7:00pm