While the Feast of the Immaculate Conception falls during Advent, this Catholic holy day and its teaching refer to Mary’s conception, not that of Christ. We celebrate this feast of Our Lady on December 8.
Table of Contents
- Church Teaching
- Mass Readings – Holy Day of Obligation
- Immaculate Conception Prayers
- Immaculate Conception in Religious Art
- Commonly-Asked Questions
- Related Guides
Church Teaching on the Immaculate Conception of Mary
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX released the Ineffabilis Deus Apostolic Constitution, which defines and details the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. “Ineffeabilis Deus” is Latin for “Ineffable God.” This term refers to the mystery of God’s omnipotence, wisdom, and plan for us, a mystery we cannot fully comprehend; the Immaculate Conception of Mary is part of this mystery. Ineffabilis Deus states:
“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.”
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates this dogma: Mary was born without original sin so that she could give birth to Christ.
“[Mary] received the benefits of salvation in Christ from the very moment of her conception,” Catholic News Agency explains.
This dogma can be challenging to understand, and perhaps that is why Pope Pius named the constitution “Ineffabilus Deus.” Its meaning is beyond words, indescribable – all part of the great and beautiful Mystery of faith.
For more information on this doctrine, read this article from New Advent that takes you line-by-line through this statement from Pope Pius IX.
Mass of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Mass readings for the Immaculate Conception come from Genesis, St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, and the Gospel of Luke (Lectionary 689).
In the Gospel reading, the Angel Gabriel appears before Mary, first startling her and then encouraging her not to be afraid. He announces that she will bear the Son of God, and her cousin Elizabeth will also conceive a son. Mary, without hesitation, responds,
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).
These first three words – “Here am I” or “Here I am” might seem simple at first glance, but they actually represent immense depth in Mary’s faith. Consider how Mary must have felt when she discovered she was to become pregnant. Yet, she responded, “Here am I.” These three words represent Mary’s genuine fiat – her complete surrender to God.
On the Immaculate Conception and throughout Advent, we reflect on Mary’s response to these circumstances; we prepare for the Nativity with her. How might you say “Here I am” like Mary this Advent?
Check out Hallow’s #Pray25 Advent Challenge to journey throughout salvation history to reflect further on this question!
Immaculate Conception Prayers
Short Prayers for the Immaculate Conception
- Holy Spirit, guide me to the mantle of Mary so that she might draw me closer to Him.
- O Mary, you were conceived without sin. Pray for me today as I seek all that is good, holy, and beautiful.
- Dear Lord, help me look to Mary as a guide in this life. I pray that I might say “Here I am” to You in perfect confidence as she.
- Here I am, Lord.
Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Immaculate Conception (2019)
In 2019, Pope Francis shared a beautiful prayer on the Immaculate Conception with us. Read the full version here, or pray alongside Mary with the following excerpts:
“O Mary Immaculate,
we gather around you once again.
The more we go on in life
the more our gratitude to God increases
for giving to us as a mother, we that are sinners,
You, who are the Immaculate.
Among all human beings, you are the only one
preserved from sin, as the mother of Jesus
Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But this your unique privilege
it was given to you for the sake of us all, your children.
We thank you, Immaculate Mother,
for reminding us that, by the love of Jesus Christ,
we are no longer slaves to sin,
but free, free to love, to love each other,
to help each other as brothers, even if different from us.
Thank you for encouraging us with your candor
not to be ashamed of good, but of evil;
help us to keep the evil one away from us,
who with deceit draws us to himself, into the coils of death;
give us the sweet memory that we are children of God,
the Father of immense goodness,
the eternal source of life, beauty and love. Amen.”
The Immaculate Conception in Religious Art
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is featured prominently in Christian religious art.
Mary typically wears a gold crown and blue shroud and stands atop a hill. Paintings of the Immaculate Conception sometimes feature roses, like images of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Look for these depictions in art in your home parish or museums with religious art. Consider taking a virtual tour of the Vatican Museums and looking for images of the Immaculate Conception.
What is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception?
The Feast, or Solemnity, of the Immaculate Conception celebrates that Mary was conceived without original sin. As Pope Pius IX said in 1854, and as quoted in the Catechism, “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, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
When is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception?
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is December 8. In 2023, the Immaculate Conception falls on a Friday.
Is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception a holy day of obligation?
Yes, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a holy day of obligation. Catholics, who are able to, are expected to attend Mass on the Immaculate Conception.
What are the symbols of the Immaculate Conception?
The prominence of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in religious art has led scholars to study the symbols, or theological “emblems,” of Mary. Such emblems include the unicorn, the enclosed garden, Mary on a mountain, and crushing the serpent. Read more on the many symbols of Mary from the University of Dayton.
How is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrated?
In Rome, there is a longstanding tradition of the Pope to place a floral wreath atop the column and statue of the Immaculate Conception in the Piazza Mignanelli, near the famous Spanish Steps and Plaza di Spagna. Traditionally, the Pope places the wreath in the afternoon, surrounded by thousands of people. The statue was dedicated three years after Pope Pius IX decreed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.