Our Port of Spain Cathedral, regarded by many as a treasured landmark, is named after the Blessed Virgin Mary in honour of her Immaculate Conception. So, too, is St Mary’s College, known as the College of the Immaculate Conception. Some devotees of Mary wear Our Lady’s Medal of the Immaculate Conception.
It is also known that, in 1858 at Lourdes in France, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous within the cave of Massabielle and revealed herself in this way: “I am The Immaculate Conception.”
Few doctrines of the Catholic Church are as misunderstood as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Many people, including Catholics, think it refers to the conception of Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit and through the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That event, though, is celebrated at the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord on March 25, nine months before Christmas.
The Immaculate Conception refers to the condition that the Blessed Virgin was free from original sin, from the very moment of her conception, in the womb of her mother, St Anne. We celebrate the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8; nine months before that is December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Fr John Hardon, SJ, in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, notes that neither the Greek nor Latin Fathers explicitly taught the Immaculate Conception but they professed it implicitly. It would take many centuries, though, for the Catholic Church to recognise the Immaculate Conception as a doctrine and many more before Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854 would declare it a dogma:
“…we declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed virgin 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 Saviour 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.”
As Fr Hardon further writes, the Blessed Virgin’s “freedom from sin was an unmerited gift of God or special grace, and an exception to the law, or privilege, which no other created person has received” (source About.comCatholicism).
Another misconception people have is that Mary’s Immaculate Conception was necessary to ensure that original sin would not be passed on to Christ. This has never been a part of the teaching on the Immaculate Conception: rather the Immaculate Conception represents Christ’s saving grace operating in Mary in anticipation of his redemption of Mary and in God’s foreknowledge of Mary’s acceptance of His Will for her.
In other words, the Immaculate Conception was not a precondition for Christ’s act of redemption but the result of it. It is the concrete expression of God’s love for Mary, who gave herself fully, completely and without hesitation to His service.
As teachers and catechists we too, like Mary, must give ourselves fully, completely and without hesitation to God’s service. Our efforts are blessed by God and bear fruit in the lives of people not by our own doing but that of God’s Holy Spirit working in us. – Eastlyn Rawlinson, Archdiocesan Catechetical Office