The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which falls on Dec. 8 each year, is one of the Church’s most misunderstood yet beloved feast days. It is also a Holy Day of Obligation this year, so be sure to find a Mass to attend! In addition to Masses on the day itself, many parishes also offer vigil Masses the day before.
While many think the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus’s conception by the Virgin Mary, it actually honors the way in which the Virgin Mary’s herself was conceived. (The Feast of the Annunciation on March 25 honors Jesus’ conception).
Now, many might wonder, “why is this such an important part of the Church’s teaching?” The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides the answer:
To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace.” In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.
Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
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, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (CCC 490-491)
In addition to attending Mass on this day, another small but significant way to honor this feast day is to invoke the Blessed Mother’s intercession by saying the Hail Mary before meals.