Posted tagged ‘Mary Mother of God’

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 The online Encyclopedia is the superceded 1913 edition.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.