Today is the feast day of The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ora pro nobis.
What the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception means is that from the first moment of her conception, God, foreseeing and anticipating the merits of Jesus’s passion and death, and knowing Mary would say “yes” to becoming the Mother of the Saviour, filled her with grace, and preserved her free from all stain of original sin. The Church assumes Mary herself was conceived in the normal way through loving intercourse of her father Joachim with her mother Anne. The date of the solemnity is co-ordinated with that of Mary’s Nativity on 8th September (nine months later). (14)
Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing,
You reign now in splendor with Jesus our King.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!
In Heaven the Blessed your glory proclaim,
On earth we your children invoke your sweet name.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!
We pray for the Church, our true mother on earth
And bless, Holy Mary, the land of our birth.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! (15)
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
At length, on the distant horizon, rises, with a soft and radiant light, the aurora of the Sun which has been so long desired. The happy Mother of the Messias was to be born before the Messias Himself; and this is the day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The earth already possesses a first pledge of the divine mercy; the Son of Man is near at hand. Two true Israelites, Joachim and Anne, noble branches of the family of David, find their union, after a long barrenness, made fruitful by the divine omnipotence. Glory be to God, Who has been mindful of His promises, and Who deigns to announce, from the high heavens, the end of the deluge of iniquity, by sending upon the earth the sweet white dove that bears the tidings of peace!
The Feast of the Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception is the most solemn of all those which the Church celebrates during the holy Season of Advent; and if the first part of the cycle had to offer us the commemoration of some one of the mysteries of Mary, there was none whose object could better harmonize with the spirit of the Church in this mystic season of expectation. Let us, then, celebrate this solemnity with joy; for the Immaculate Conception of Mary tells us that the Birth of Jesus is not far off.
The intention of the Church in this Feast is not only to celebrate the anniversary of the happy moment in which began, in the womb of the pious Anne, the life of the ever-glorious Virgin Mary; but also to honor the sublime privilege, by which Mary was preserved from the original stain, which, by a sovereign and universal decree, is contracted by all the children of Adam the very moment they are conceived in their mother’s womb. The faith of the Catholic Church on the subject of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is this: that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, but rather was filled with an immeasurable grace which rendered Her, from that moment, the mirror of the sanctity of God Himself, as far as this is possible to a creature. The Church with Her infallible authority, declared, by the lips of Pope Pius IX, that this article of Her Faith had been revealed by God Himself. The Definition was received with enthusiasm by the whole of Christendom, and the 8th of December of the year 1854 was thus made one of the most memorable days of the Church’s history.
It was due to His own infinite sanctity that God should suspend, in this instance, the law which His divine justice had passed upon all the children of Adam. The relations which Mary was to bear to the Divinity could not be reconciled with Her undergoing the humiliations of this punishment. She was not only Daughter of the Eternal Father; She was destined also to become the very Mother of the Son and the veritable Bride of the Holy Ghost. Nothing defiled could be permitted to enter, even for an instant of time, into the creature that was thus predestined to contract such close relations with the adorable Trinity; not a speck could be permitted to tarnish in Mary that perfect purity which the infinitely holy God requires even in those who are one day to be admitted to enjoy the sight of His Divine Majesty in Heaven; in a word, as the great Doctor St. Anselm says, “It was just that this Holy Virgin should be adorned with the greatest purity which can be conceived after that of God Himself, since God the Father was to give to Her, as Her Child, that Only-Begotten Son, Whom He loved as Himself, as being begotten to Him from His own bosom; and this in such a manner, that the selfsame Son of God was, by nature, the Son of both God the Father and this Blessed Virgin. This same Son chose Her to be substantially His Mother; and the Holy Ghost willed that in Her womb He would operate the conception and birth of Him from Whom He Himself proceeded.”
The Church, even before the solemn proclamation of the grand dogma, kept the Feast of this 8th day of December; which was, in reality, a profession of Her faith. It is true the Feast was called simply the Conception of Mary. But the fact of such a feast being instituted and kept was an unmistakable expression of the faith of Christendom in that truth. St. Bernard and the Angelical Doctor, St. Thomas, both teach that the Church cannot celebrate the feast of what is not holy; the Conception of Mary, therefore, was holy and immaculate, since the Church has, for ages past, honored it with a special feast. The Nativity of the same Holy Virgin is kept as a solemnity in the Church, because Mary was born full of grace; therefore, had the first moment of Mary’s existence been one of sin, as is that of all the other children of Adam, it never could have been made the subject of the reverence of the Church. Now there are few feasts so generally and so firmly established in the Church as this which we are keeping today.
The Greek Church, which, more easily than the Latin, could learn what were the pious traditions of the East, kept this Feast even in the 6th century, as is evident from the ceremonial or, as it is called, the Type, of St. Sabbas. In the West, we find it established in the Gothic Church of Spain as far back as the 8th century. A celebrated calendar which was engraved on marble, in the 9th century, for the use of the Church of Naples, attests that it had already been introduced there. Paul the Deacon, secretary to the Emperor St. Karl the Great, and afterwards monk at Monte Cassino, composed a celebrated hymn on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. In 1066 the Feast was first established in England, in consequence of the pious Abbot Helsyn’s being miraculously preserved from shipwreck; and shortly after that, was made general through the whole island by the zeal of the great St. Anselm, monk of the Order of St. Benedict, and Archbishop of Canterbury. From England it passed into Normandy, and took root in France. We find it sanctioned in Germany, in a Council held in 1049, at which Pope St. Leo IX was present; in 1090 at the Abbey of Irach in Navarre; in Belgium, at Liège, in 1142. Thus did the Churches of the West testify their faith in this mystery, by accepting its Feast, which is the expression of faith.
Lastly, it was adopted by Rome herself, and her doing so rendered the united testimony of her children, the other Churches, more imposing than ever. It was Pope Sixtus IV who, in the year 1476, published the Decree of the Feast of Our Lady’s Conception for the city of St. Peter. In the next century, in 1586, Pope St. Pius V published the universal edition of the Roman Breviary, and in its calendar was inserted this Feast as one of those Christian solemnities which the faithful are every year bound to observe.
How Thy gentle light gladdens our wearied eyes, sweet Mother! Generation had followed generation on this earth of ours. Men looked up to Heaven through their tears, hoping to see appear on the horizon the star which they had been told should disperse the gloomy horrors of the world’s darkness; but death came, and they sank into the tomb, without seeing even the dawn of the light, for which alone they cared to live. It is for us that God had reserved the blessing of seeing Thy lovely rising, O Thou fair Morning Star, which sheddest Thy blessed rays on the sea, and bringest calm after the long stormy night! O prepare our eyes that they may behold the Divine Sun which will soon follow in Thy path, and give to the world His reign of light and day. Prepare our hearts, for it is to our hearts that this Jesus of Thine wishes to show Himself. To see Him, our hearts must be pure: purify them, O Thou Immaculate Mother! The Divine Wisdom has willed that of the Feasts which the Church dedicates to Thee, this of Thy Immaculate Conception should be celebrated during Advent; that thus the children of the Church, reflecting on the jealous care wherewith God preserved Thee from every stain of sin because Thou wast to be the Mother of His Divine Son, might prepare to receive this same Jesus by the most perfect renunciation of every sin and of every attachment to sin. This great change must be made; and Thy prayers, O Mary, will help us to make it. Pray — we ask it of Thee by the grace God gave Thee in Thy Immaculate Conception — that our covetousness may be destroyed, our concupiscence extinguished, and our pride turned into humility. Despise not our prayers, dear Mother of that Jesus Who chose Thee for His dwelling-place, that He might afterwards find one in each of us. (1)
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”–Apoc. 12.
Among the various privileges of the Blessed Virgin, the one which the Church recalls to us by the feast of to-day strikes us as being altogether peculiar in character. In regard to all the other prerogatives of Mary, they are in themselves an incitement for us, who are her children, to derive from them some benefit for ourselves, and to sanctify our lives by the imitation of her virtues. But this privilege which was granted to none but Mary, seems, exceptionally, to bear no practical reference whatever to our life of virtue. And yet from the consideration of this mystery can be drawn much that has reference to our lives as children of God. I admit: We certainly had not the happiness of entering this world free from the stain of sin; still the Sacrament of Baptism which, perhaps we were so fortunate as to receive on the very day, or even in the hour of our birth, cleansed our soul entirely from the guilt of Adam. Alas! how few preserve their baptismal innocence! How soon is it lost! And why is this?
A glance at the image of the Immaculate Conception will give you the answer to this question. O Mary, whose child I became at baptism, beg for me the grace never to lose my baptismal innocence; or, if unfortunately I have lost it, obtain that I may again cleanse my soul from every stain of sin, by the baptism of penance! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God! What a precious boon baptismal innocence is, what an extraordinary grace, what a singular privilege! In the past five thousand years countless persons have lived who never had the happiness of receiving baptism. Although Mary was the only being among all the children of men who enjoyed the happiness and the singular grace of coming into existence, free from all stain of original sin, yet we also, who have been born of Catholic parents, have received, without any merit of our own, a most wondrous grace, in being so soon cleansed by baptism from original sin, and thereby becoming pleasing to God.
If we had died the moment after receiving baptism we would have immediately entered heaven, there to enjoy the beatific vision. If this fact furnishes such a potent reason for being grateful to God, must we not be filled with sadness when we reflect that so few of those baptized retain their innocence unto the close of their lives? Ask of yourself: How is it with me? Have I never in my life committed one mortal sin? If not, oh! then thank God and rejoice. But, alas! the number of those who are conscious of this privilege is very small. As regards baptism, there are millions and hundreds of millions who share this happiness with us. But how few of these, if they die as adults, bear their baptismal innocence beyond the grave! And how few of these millions, who reach manhood or old age, have never in their life sinned mortally! I may say the large majority lose the precious grace of innocence in their youth.
And, you may ask, what is the cause of this? I said: That one glance at the image of the Blessed Virgin, which we are accustomed to call that of the Immaculate Conception, will give you the answer. As is well known, we are wont to represent the Immaculate Conception in this manner: Mary is represented as a virgin, with eyes cast down, and hands folded as if in prayer. She places one foot upon the moon, whilst with the other she crushes the head of the serpent that lies upon the ground, bearing an apple in its mouth. Behold, in this image the reasons why so many persons so soon lose the grace of baptism; behold also the virtues, on the diligent practice of which depends the preservation of baptismal innocence!
Mary has one foot upon the earth. This teaches us, that if we wish to retain our innocence we must sever our hearts from all inordinate desire for those things which the world offers–earthly possessions, worldly honor, worldly enjoyments. We must fully understand, that whatever the world may offer with the promise of rendering us happy here below, is naught but dross and disappointment, that can never satisfy the cravings of our hearts, which were created solely for God and for heaven. But this conviction must be so entire, that we not only do not prefer the goods and pleasures of this world to those spiritual ones which our faith and the intercourse with God grant us even in this world; but that we, moreover, regard them in the same light as did St. Paul when he said: I regard all that is not Christ, as the filth of the street. You must cherish the same sentiments if you wish to preserve your baptismal innocence.
But, alas! this is not the case with the great majority of the children of the Church. They overrate earthly goods and enjoyments; and even in their early youth they long for them with such eagerness, that very soon this craving proves their downfall and the occasion for mortal sin.
Mary has, at the same time, the moon under her feet. What meaning is hidden in this? The moon is a symbol of mutability. Man but too often forms good resolutions, but as often fails to keep them; he breaks them as readily as if he had never made them. If all Christians were to adhere to the resolutions which they formed in early youth, then would they also preserve their innocence. But here lies the fault. Circumstances change: one leaves his home and enters with others on the every-day duties of life. He fails in the resolutions he made of saying his prayers, of frequently receiving the Sacraments, Of attending divine service, of reading spiritual books, and thus he becomes careless, yields to temptations, and commits grievous sins others have instilled the poison into their hearts, and entangled them in numerous occasions of sin.
Mary stands wrapt in pious meditation. If you wish to preserve your innocence untarnished, walk in the presence of God with recollection of spirit, and pray with fervor. The holy Fathers have justly remarked, that no one has ever lost his innocence who did not, in the first place, grow careless in saying his prayers, or neglect them altogether. And to what does the serpent, in the image of the Immaculate Conception, point? I answer: It points to the dangers of society and bad company; to the seducing power of bad example, and encouragement to evil on the part of others. This is the means which Satan employs most frequently in bringing souls to ruin. It is intercourse with, and the encouragement of persons who have already become habitual sinners, which exercise the most potent influence over innocent souls. These are in danger of gradually ceasing to regard sin as a dreadful thing; and, being led away by the persuasive language of the seducer, they depart from the narrow path, and tread the broad road which leads to perdition. Young boys and girls who have had the advantage of a religious education at home, are but too often led away in this manner, so that a few months after their first communion they are totally changed. Intercourse with and the encouragement of others have instilled the poison into their hearts, and entangled them in numerous occasions of sin.
Mary crushes the head of the serpent that holds in its mouth the apple of temptation. What does this signify? I answer: The reason why so many persons lose their baptismal innocence is this: They do not resist temptation at the outset, and crush its first beginnings.If you wish to retain your innocence you must follow the advice of Christ: “If thy eye, hand, or foot tempt thee, cut it off–cast it away; “meaning thereby, that we should avoid all occasions of sin, no matter at what cost. If you have lost your innocence, it was because you did not follow this advice.
The image represents the Virgin with eyes cast down. What does this imply? I say, if you wish to preserve your innocence, you must walk in the presence of the Lord in humility of spirit, knowing full well how weak you are of yourself in the face of temptation. This trait in the image of the Blessed Virgin says to you: Humble thyself!
May the invocation of Mary Immaculate obtain for us grace, that by the practice of virtue our lives may be conformable to hers, and that we, in this world of sin, may always walk pure and spotless in the presence of God! Amen! (6)
Hymn: O Gloriosa Virginum
O glorious Virgin, ever blest,
Sublime above the starry sky,
Who nuture from thy spotless breast
To thy Creator didst supply.
What we had lost through hapless Eve
The Blossom sprung from thee restores,
And, granting bliss to souls that grieve,
Unbars the everlasting doors.
O Gate, through which hath passed the King,
O Hall, whence Light shone through the gloom;
The ransomed nations praise and sing
Life given from the Virgin womb.
All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen.
V. This day is the Immaculate Conception of the holy Virgin Mary.
R. Who with her virginal foot crushed the serpent’s head.
Ant. The Lord God said to the serpent: I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head. Alleluia.
O God, Who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin didst prepare a worthy dwelling place for thy Son: we beseech Thee, that, as by the death of the same Thy Son, foreseen by Thee, Thou didst keep her free from all stain, so by her intercession thou wouldst grant to us also to come with clean hearts to Thee. Amen.
O Mary, who didst enter the world free from stain, do thou obtain for me, from God, that I may pass out of it free from sin. Amen
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Indulgence of 300 days; plenary indulgence once a month on the usual conditions, for devout daily recitation.
To the Virgin Immaculate
O Virgin Immaculate, Mother of God and my Mother, from thy sublime height turn upon me thine eyes of pity. Filled with confidence in thy goodness and knowing full well thy power, I beseech thee to extend to me thine assistance in the journey of life, which is so full of dangers for my soul. And in order that I may never be the slave of the devil through sin, but may ever live with my heart humble and pure, I entrust myself wholly to thee. I consecrate my heart to thee for ever, my only desire being to love thy divine Son Jesus. Mary, none of thy devout servants has ever perished; may I too be saved. Amen.
Indulgence of 500 days.
Prayer of Praise
O pure and immaculate and likewise blessed Virgin, who art the sinless Mother of thy Son, the mighty Lord of the universe, thou who art inviolate and altogether holy, the hope of the hopeless and sinful, we sing thy praises. We bless thee, as full of every grace, thou who didst bear the God-Man: we all bow low before thee; we invoke thee and implore thine aid. Rescue us, O holy and inviolate Virgin, from every necessity that presses upon us and from all the temptations of the devil. Be our intercessor and advocate at the hour of death and judgment; deliver us from the fire that is not extinguished and from the outer darkness; make us worthy of the glory of thy Son, O dearest and most clement Virgin Mother. Thou indeed art our only hope, most sure and sacred in God’s sight, to whom be honor and glory, majesty and dominion for ever and ever world without end. Amen.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian
Litany of the Immaculate Conception
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father, Source of all sanctity,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, uncreated Sanctity,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost,
Spirit of Sanctity,
Have mercy on us.
Most sacred Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, immaculate,
Pray for us.*
Virgin of virgins, immaculate*
Holy Virgin, by predestination immaculate,*
Holy Virgin, in thy conception immaculate,*
Holy Virgin, after thy conception immaculate*
Daughter of the Father, immaculate,*
Mother of the Son, immaculate,*
Spouse of the Holy Ghost, immaculate,*
Seat of the most Holy Trinity, immaculate,*
Image of the Wisdom of God, immaculate,*
Dawn of the Son of Justice, immaculate,*
Living arc of the body of Christ, immaculate,*
Daughter of David, immaculate,*
Guide to Jesus, immaculate,*
Virgin, triumphing over original sin, immaculate,*
Virgin crushing the head of the serpent, immaculate,*
Queen of heaven and earth, immaculate,*
Gate of the heavenly Jerusalem, immaculate,*
Dispenser of graces, immaculate,*
Spouse of St. Joseph, immaculate,*
Star of the world, immaculate,*
Impregnable tower of the Church militant, immaculate,*
Rose amid thorns, immaculate,*
Olive of the fields, immaculate,*
Model of all perfection, immaculate,*
Cause of our hope, immaculate,*
Pillar of our faith, immaculate,*
Source of divine love, immaculate,*
Sure sign of our salvation, immaculate,*
Rule of perfect obedience, immaculate,*
Pattern of holy poverty, immaculate,*
School of devotion, immaculate,*
Abode of chaste modesty, immaculate,*
Anchor of our salvation, immaculate,*
Light of angels, immaculate,*
Crown of Patriarchs, immaculate,*
Glory of Prophets, immaculate,*
Lady and Mistress of Apostles, immaculate,*
Support of Martyrs, immaculate,*
Strength of Confessors, immaculate,*
Diadem of Virgins, immaculate,*
Splendor of all Saints, immaculate,*
Sanctity of all Christians, immaculate,*
Companion of devout souls, immaculate,*
Joy of those who hope in thee, immaculate,*
Health of the sick, immaculate,*
Advocate of sinners, immaculate,*
Terror of heretics, immaculate,*
Protectress of all mankind, immaculate,*
Patroness of those who honor thee, immaculate,*
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
V. In thy conception, O Virgin Mary, thou wast immaculate.
R. Pray for us to the Father, Whose Son Jesus conceived of the Holy Ghost, thou didst bring forth.
Let us Pray.
O Almighty and Eternal God, Who didst prepare for thy Son a worthy habitation, by the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary; we beseech Thee, that, as Thou didst preserve her from every stain of sin, through the merits of the preordained atonement of Jesus Christ, so Thou wouldst grant that we also may come without spot to Thee. Through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen
Ejaculations in honor of the Immaculate Conception
1. In your Conception, O Virgin Mary, you were immaculate! Pray for us to the Father, Whose Son Jesus, conceived in your womb by the Holy Ghost, you brought forth.
An indulgence of 300 days each time.
2. Blessed be the holy, immaculate, and most pure conception of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.
An indulgence of 300 days each time.
3. O Mary, who came into this world free from sin, obtain from God for me to leave it without sin.
Research by REGINA Staff