For the past 141 years on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (16th of July) in my hometown of Hammonton, New Jersey, there is a procession through the streets of the statues of various saints that usually reside inside the local parish church. The faithful who are devoted to each saint distribute prayer cards of their patron as they process with the statues through the streets – St. Joseph, St. Anne, St. Anthony, St. Rita, St. Jude, St. Rocco, St. Lucy, St. Vincent Pallotti, and so forth. The Blessed Mother, while at the end under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, appears also in the procession under various names – Milagrosa, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Assumption, and the Immaculate Conception, whose Solemnity we celebrate today.
Sometimes, these various titles and ways of representing the Blessed Mother can be confusing for some of those who line the streets of the procession route. My mother, Angela, who has been part of the procession for over 50 years, makes a float with a large Rosary and a statue of the Blessed Mother under the title of the Immaculate Conception on it, although some would call the statue “Our Lady of Grace.” The statue, which is over 100 years old, is patterned after the image on the “Miraculous Medal,” around which is inscribed the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Since many who come to the procession are not necessarily practicing Catholics, my mother always offers a form of “street evangelization” to those who come to her float to receive a prayer folder that provides instructions on how to say the Rosary.
Since the statue of the Immaculate Conception is on a special float, many will come and ask if it is of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Sometimes, my mother is asked what the difference is between the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. She responds cheerfully, “Same Lady, different dress.” My mother then goes on to explain why the Blessed Mother has so many titles. She also assists these curious onlookers in understanding how Mary offers us the greatest example of how to follow Jesus as his disciple. She helps them learn that Mary was prepared from the time of her conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, to receive Jesus and did so throughout her life.
We, too, are meant to be prepared to receive Jesus into our lives in an ongoing way, especially during the Advent season. We have not been conceived without sin, but we have been washed clean of Original Sin at Baptism (and all prior sin, if one was baptized as an adult). While we have all sinned since that time, our Baptism offers us a share in the mission of Jesus Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King. Though followers or disciples, he also sends us as apostles, or as missionary disciples, out into our challenging world to witness to him by what we say and do. The Blessed Virgin Mary offers us the best example of how to follow Jesus Christ. No matter what title of hers might appeal to us spiritually, she is always “same Lady, different dress.” She was the same in her following of Jesus during her life and continues from her heavenly home to invite us to follow her Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Lord.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
The Catholic Apostolate Center is a ministry of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers). The Pallottines and the Center staff will remember you in special prayer on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
It has been just over a week since Easter Sunday. Some of you may be enjoying sipping lattes again, hitting the snooze button, reaching for another doughnut or taking warmer showers. Some of you may be looking back on Lent with relief because you got through it. Others may be exasperated by promises broken, while still others rejoice quietly at another season of growth with the Lord. Regardless of how you perceive your Lenten journey, rejoice! We remain in the Easter season! We continue to sing praise and proclaim the victory of the Lord!
We rejoice, despite the traffic jam.
We rejoice, despite fickle weather.
We rejoice, despite the world’s indifference..
We rejoice, despite news of ongoing persecution.
We rejoice, because death is conquered.
We rejoice, because Christ is Risen.
In last Thursday’s Gospel, Christ asks his disciples, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” He poses the same questions to us today. Why are we troubled? We often fret, watching the news, getting up for what seems like another monotonous day, finding a stain on our clothing or cleaning up the fiftieth mess of the day. We are often tempted to wonder if Christ’s Resurrection really has an effect on our day to day lives. Mentally, we understand that this moment in history is what makes our lives possible. It is why we are redeemed, why Christianity has any meaning. But how has the light of the Resurrection seeped into the “ordinariness” of your day? Can you say your life looks different before and after the Lenten season?
The Resurrected Christ, whose glorious body is transformed and yet still pierced, asks us:
What troubles you? Why is your heart wrought with questions? Has not my life, death and Resurrection shown you at what lengths I was willing to go to prove my love for you? Have you not seen I have conquered your greatest foe—death? Rejoice with me, my little one! Your life has been made anew!
Christ’s death and Resurrection were God’s answer to fallen man’s question: “am I lovable?” His answer--spoken in Jesus’ life, laughter, miracles, scourging, Crucifixion--is a resounding “YES.” This is the glory of the Resurrection that gives meaning to the “ordinariness” of each day and makes each moment of our lives something miraculous and spectacular. As Christians, we rejoice always—for we are a people of Resurrection living in the certainty of being loved and forgiven. During the Easter season, we rejoice in a profoundly heartfelt and thoughtful way. We have walked forty days with Christ in a season of prayer, penance and service, and we have crucified our weaknesses and imperfections with Him in order to emerge from this time freer and more beautiful than before. Our steps may have faltered. We may have failed along the way. But our aim this past Lent was to grow closer to Christ, even but half a step closer. And our attempt to do so, even small and imperfect, is cause for rejoicing.
Throughout this Easter season, I invite you to continue to reflect on your Lenten journey in the light of Christ’s Resurrection. Continue to incorporate the spiritual practices you took on or offer up small forms of sacrifice in your day to day lives on the path of holiness. The more we welcome Christ in our hearts, the more his light can penetrate our very being to illuminate the world. Try to “look” different after each Lenten season so that at the end of your life, you may look like Him—the Crucified, but also, the glorified, the Resurrected.
Kate Flannery is pursuing a Master's degree in Leadership for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute in Denver and graduates in May.
Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a great feast day for the Church in the United States. Buona festa!
At first glance, many might think we’re celebrating Jesus’ conception, but that’s the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25th, nine months before Christmas. Today is actually a great Marian feast – commemorating that Mary, Mother of the Savior, was, as Blessed Pius XI procliamed “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” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus). We celebrate her birth nine months later on September 8th.
This is a great American feast day because from the beginnings of the Catholic Church in America, Bishop John Carroll consecrated the United States to the Immaculate Conception in 1792 and the bishops unanimously affirmed her as Patroness of our country in 1846. Blessed Pius XI approved their choice and eight years later declared as infallible the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Less than a century later, the largest Catholic Church in the United States was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.
When I was a freshman in college, some upperclassmen friends from the Catholic Student Center took me to this church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, for the first time on December 8th. I was in awe! The church represents the United States well – just like our nation it is a melting pot of various ethnic shrines from around the world honoring Mary under various titles and most of all the title Immaculate Conception.
Advent has just started (we’re only a week in), and on the path to Christmas this feast reminds us of the plan God has for us and His infinite love. As the Catechism states, “the Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love’” (CCC 492). Through this feast day, as always, Mary leads us to Jesus – calling us to prepare our hearts for Him.
As the prime example of motherhood, Mary is the first to believe in her son, and she encourages him in his first public ministry at the wedding feast of Cana. As we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent we should listen to Mary’s words to the wedding servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”
As is etched in the stone walls of the Miraculous Medal Shrine at the National Shrine: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
Nick Wagman is the Project Management & IT Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.