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Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2008


Saint Anne conceiving the Virgin Mary

Jean Bellegambe: Saint Anne conceiving the Virgin Mary

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The understanding that Mary had been conceived without the taint of original sin is very ancient. However, the feast cannot be traced back past the 7th century where it was celebrated in the eastern churches.  It spread to the west and there is evidence that it was being celebrated in some parts of  it by the 8th century.  The adoption of the feast had a long and very complex history in the west for a couple of reasons. One important one was the inability of  theologians to agree on how Mary could be preserved from original sin. 

Although Pope Sixtus IV adopted the feast for the entire Latin Church in 1476, the Immaculate Conception did not become settled doctrine until this day in 1854.  Pope Pius IX explained the dogma (only one of two times that any doctrine has been pronounced “infallible.”)  in Ineffabilis Deus.

The Immaculate Conception is a solemnity. It is also a Holy Day of obligation which means that all Catholics are obligated to attend Mass on this day. It is fitting, indeed that it occurs in Advent, given Mary’s rather considerable role in the coming of the Lord.

The terms, Solemnity and Holy Day of obligation are quite foreign to most of us (former) Protestants and to those from different backgrounds.

Solemnity is defined at Knowledgerush in this way:


A Solemnity of the Roman Catholic Church observes an event in the life of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, beginning on the evening prior to actual date. Solemnity is made up of Latin words solet and annus, meaning a yearly (annual) celebration. They are observed throughout the entire Church.

A helpful list of the solemnities follows the definition. 


KnowledgeRush defines a Holy Day of obligation as: 


a day, besides a Sunday, on which its members are required by canon law to attend Mass. 

You can find a list of Holy days of obligation at the end of the entry. 

 If you would like to read up on the rather complex history of this feast, there is a long and very scholarly discussion in the Catholic Encyclopedia online. It is not for the faint of heart! The online Encyclopedia is the superceded 1913 edition. (The current edition was published in 2002). This means that caution is needed, particularly when looking at scientific topics, and some doctrinal ones. However, the historical information is quite sound. 


Jesus Through the Eyes of Others

November 23, 2008

Hello, Class of 2009!

Well, I know some of y’all have looked– but nobody has said anything or asked anything. It is terribly lonely in here. you may have noticed that I have been playing with the design of the blog. If you see anything you really hate, let me know.

Advent is right around the corner. Since we are celebrating the arrival of the Lord, I thought I would share a very small selection of my favorite representations of Christ:

chinesejesus1This is a Chinese representation of Jesus and some of his apostles that I find really beautiful.

ca. 350 A.D. From a church in Rome.

ca. 350 A.D. From a church in Rome.

Many of the early depictions of Jesus portray him with much darker skin than we are used to seeing in modern times.

From a Baptist Church in Philadelphia

From a Baptist Church in Philadelphia

This is a modern African American Jesus.

This Ethiopian Jesus is from the 17th or 18th century.

Finally, another Chinese Jesus. I don’t know the date or the artist but I suspect that this is a modern representation.

It is too easy for us to think of Jesus as a European, usually with blue eyes and light brown hair. After all, that is so very common and familiar to us. But Advent is an excellent time to remember that Jesus is Lord of all and that he came to save us all.

Funny thing that. It reminds me, yet again, that catholic means universal.

Confession 102

April 14, 2008

I am finding confession more confusing, as I go along, rather than less.  I can hardly believe that I need a refresher course already, but I do.

There are lots of aids out there to help one make a good confession. They tell us things like, “keep track of what sins you commit and how many times”.  Well, excuse me. It is easy to keep track of the number of bank robberies I have committed. Any idiot can do that. But how do I keep track of the number of times I was uncharitable in my thoughts? The number of times I have consigned other drivers to … well you know where. I am on Taylor Road at rush hour 10 times a week. Believe me, if my careless thoughts could actually accomplish something, you know where would be overflowing with Alabamians.

I suppose one possible solution would be just to commit sins of the flesh. They are easy to track …


Here I am

April 8, 2008

Since we have been talking about praying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, I wanted to explain that these are personal devotions and whether you choose to do them or not does not make you more or less Catholic.  For me, they are very centering prayers and when my mind will not cooperate and lead me in the direction I need to go, these prayers/devotions will always calm me and center me.