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.