Understanding the meaning behind the feast of the Immaculate Conception

People may know that they must attend Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but they are sometimes fuzzy on the exact reason for this important holy day of obligation, which is officially observed on Dec. 8.

Msgr. Charles Rowland, pastor of Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island, has spoken on this topic, noting that even the most observant Catholics sometimes mistakenly believe that the feast commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Actually, it celebrates Mary being conceived without sin by St. Anne, her mother.

The conception of Jesus is celebrated on the Feast of the Annunciation, which is March 25.

Being conceived without the stain of original sin signified Mary’s special future role as the mother of God’s own son, Msgr. Rowland explained.

“I would tell people to focus on the great gift St. Anne was given in being able to participate in the conception of her child without sin,” Msgr. Rowland said. “Mary being conceived without sin made her the first tabernacle for the sinless one, which was Jesus Christ himself. She was prepared for the eventual conception of Jesus in her womb by the Holy Spirit, and became the first temple and first tabernacle of Jesus.”

The Immaculate Conception of Mary was celebrated for many centuries before Pope Pius IX declared it an official dogma of the church through his apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus, issued on Dec. 8, 1854.

“… 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 merit of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin,” he wrote.

This article was first published in The Miscellany in December 2012.