DO you know who or what the Immaculate Conception is?
Those who have forgotten their catechism, or never learned it, will say the Immaculate Conception is Jesus Christ, that the Immaculate Conception is that of Jesus Christ. Well, it is indeed true that Jesus the Second Person of the Holy Trinity (the Trinity of one God in the Persons of Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) was conceived as a human being immaculately in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Jesus, the God-Man, could not be anything but immaculate.
But the great feasts of the Church for Jesus Christ are Christmas, His birth, and His Resurrection from the dead on the third day after his death on the cross. The moment of Jesus’ conception happened when the Blessed Virgin Mary said Yes to the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement to her that God had chosen her to be the bearer of God in human form, and she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, and she would give birth to him who would redeem men and women (and mankind) from their sins.
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word,” she told St. Gabriel after he explained how she could do the impossible of conceiving when she was a virgin. From that moment God the Word, the Second Person, who would be known as Jesus, took flesh in the womb of Mary. That is the moment of Jesus’ conception or incarnation—the beginning of his human nature, his membership in the human race. The Incarnation (the enfleshment of God) is celebrated on March 25 every year. It is also known as the Annunciation. Nine months after that is the birth or nativity of Jesus our God-Man savior: Christmas Day.
In the Christian Orthodox Church, the Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated more lavishly. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is a solemn day but not a holy day of obligation in most countries. (On a holy day of obligation Catholics are obliged, are duty bound, to go to Mass.)
It was actually in the Eastern domains of early Christianity, where the Orthodox Church and the Eastern rite Catholic Churches were based, which first celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In the seventh century, Eastern Christians began to observe the feast of the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary by her mother Saint Anne (wife of St. Joachim, Mary’s father) on December 8. Nine months later, on September 8 is the Feast of the Birth or Nativity of the Virgin,
A theological controversy in the Western Church developed about the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin, in relation to the doctrine of Original Sin. Jesus saved all mankind, including His mother, Mary. But how could Mary be subject to Jesus’ redemptive action if she was conceived immaculately. One of those who could not accept the immaculate conception doctrine was the brightest mind in Christian theology and philosophy, the Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas. He contended that although Mary did not commit any sin whatsoever after the Annunciation she was at least also stained with Adam and Eve’s Original Sin by being a human being born of her human parents.
The hero who championed Mary’s immaculate conception was the Franciscan Duns Scotus, who only became Blessed Duns Scotus on March 20, 1993, when Blessed John Paul II beatified him. People, including this writer, are praying for his canonization.
Blessed Duns Scotus’ answer to St. Thomas Aquinas’ objection was simple: God sanctified (made a saint) of Mary at the moment of her conception because God sees and knows everything. He knew that the Blessed Virgin would agree to His call, through Archangel Gabriel, for her to bear Christ. Duns Scotus explained that Mary too had been redeemed by Jesus, only He (the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity) redeemed her at the moment of her conception.
This is of course unique. Other people are redeemed upon their baptism and after they fall into sin upon their getting absolved after making a good confession and doing penance or at their deathbed after receiving the sacrament of extreme unction.
It was only on December 8, 1854 when Pope Pius IX promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, he wrote: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds 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, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”
All Christians, not just Catholics, are obliged by canon law to accept this doctrine as true because it is a promulgated dogma.
The Feast of our Mother Mary’s Immaculate Conception is extremely important to Filipino Catholics, and even other Filipino Christians like many Aglipayans and Anglicans-Episcopalians.
This importance can be seen in the fact that in the Philippines there are only three holy days of obligation: January 1 – Motherhood of Mary (New Year’s Day), December 8—Immaculate Conception which is the title of our Blessed Mother as Patroness of the Philippines, and December 25—Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Day.)
The liturgical observances (Holy Mass) of all major solemnities of the Church in the Philippines have been moved to the nearest Sunday. Therefore, the obligation to hear Mass on that day becomes simultaneous to the Sunday observance.
Our Mother Mary, the Immaculate Conception is not only the patroness of the whole Philippines but also of specific town, cities and provinces.
She is the patroness of the Archdiocese of Manila.
She is also patroness of Puerto Princesa, Palawan. There the people and the Church began to celebrate their Immaculate Conception fiesta on December 1. The celebration reaches a high point today but the celebrations will continue on until January 6, the end of the Christmas season.