The Immaculate Conception by Francisco Zurbarán
Two days ago in Spain we had a national holiday because we celebrated Constitution Day. Today we are out of school again and this time the reason is the Feast of the Immaculate. No matter what religion you are (or if you don’t belong to any religion at all) it is useful to know the origin and reasons for our celebrations.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is celebrated on 8th December. It is the patronal feast day of the United States and it is a national holiday in over 20 countries besides Spain. It is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church as well as a few other closely related Christian churches.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is, according to Catholic doctrine, the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain (“macula” in Latin) of Original Sin. It is one of the four dogmas in Roman Catholic Mariology. Under this aspect Mary is sometimes called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic contexts.
The doctrine states that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved by God from the Original Sin and filled with sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth. Catholics believe Mary “was free from any personal or hereditary sin”. Mary’s immaculate conception should not be confused with the Incarnation of her son Jesus Christ; the conception of Jesus is celebrated as the Annunciation to Mary. Catholics do not believe that Mary, herself, was the product of a Virgin Birth. Catholic theology maintains that since Jesus became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, it was fitting that she be completely free of sin for expressing her fiat:
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word”
The feast was translated to the Western Church in the eighth century, it began to be celebrated on December 8th. It spread from the Byzantine area of Southern Italy to Normandy during the period of Norman dominance over southern Italy. From there it spread into England, France, Germany, and eventually Rome.
In 1854, Pius IX made the infallible statement Ineffabilis Deus: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”
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