December 8th of this year marks the 150th anniversary of the solemn proclamation of the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The belief in this singular privilege of the Blessed Mother was already a part of the faith of the Catholic Church from time immemorial. However, Blessed Pope Pius IX, after extensive consultation with the bishops of the world, in an exercise of the infallible teaching authority held by Popes when speaking ex cathedra, defined as divinely revealed that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (Ineffabilis Deus)
Mary is the new Eve, the sinless mother of the Redeemer and the redeemed. In reflecting on the angel’s greeting to Mary at the Annunciation as “full of grace” (Luke 1: 28), the Church recognized that this fullness of grace extended to the moment of her conception and thus meant her freedom from original sin (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no 491). Thus, Mary was the first beneficiary of the power of Christ’s saving work and, since unshackled by the chains of sin, she could with extraordinary faith and love give her free assent to God’s call to her to be the mother of our savior. (CCC, no 490)
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is appropriately observed as a Holy Day of Obligation. For this feast connects Mary, the first Disciple, to all her son’s disciples and in doing so reminds us that we all are called by God to holiness. In imitation of Mary and accompanied by her maternal intercession, we too can grow in grace; for, she is for us God’s “sign of favor to the Church at its beginning, and the promise of its perfection as the bride of Christ, radiant in beauty’ (cf. Preface, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception).
In 1846, during the first Council of Baltimore, U.S. bishops placed this nation under the patronage of Mary in her Immaculate Conception. Today, human life in our nation faces threats in its most vulnerable stages – abortion, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization and potentially human cloning, all represent attacks on the inviolable principle of the right to life of all human beings. Mary’s Immaculate Conception reminds us of the inherent value and dignity of each human life from the first moment of conception.
May the intercession of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of these United States, bring about a conversion of minds and hearts in our nation so that every human being is protected by law and welcomed in life from the first moment of conception until natural death.
This year, on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Catholics will gather at the altar, hopefully in greater numbers than ever, to give honor to the Patroness of our nation and sing in one voice “All honor to you, Mary! From you, arose the sun of justice, Christ our God” (Communion antiphon for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception).
Bishop Thomas Wenski
Bishop of Orlando