What is the Immaculate Conception

What is the Immaculate Conception?

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The Immaculate Conception is a Dogma of the Catholic Church, maintaining that, from the moment when she was conceived in the womb, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of Original Sin, so that she was, from the start, filled with the Sanctifying Grace normally conferred in Baptism. It is one of the four Dogmas in Roman Catholic Mariology. [The four Dogmas are: Perpetual Virginity; Mother of God; Immaculate Conception; and Assumption. They form the basis of Mariology.]
The Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary concerns her mother’s conception of her, not Mary’s conception of Jesus (the Virgin Birth of Jesus), nor the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. Although the belief, that Mary was conceived immaculate, was widely held since at least Late Antiquity, the Doctrine was not Dogmatically defined until 8 December 1854, by Pope Pius IX in his Papal Bull “Ineffabilis Deus”. It is not formal Doctrine, except in the Roman Catholic Church. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is observed on 8 December in many Catholic countries as a Holy Day of Obligation, or Patronal Feast, and in some as a national public holiday.
The defined Dogma of the Immaculate Conception regards Original Sin, only, saying that Mary was preserved from any stain (in Latin, macula, or labes, the second of these two synonymous words being the one used in the Formal Definition). The proclaimed Roman Catholic Dogma states “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 Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of Original Sin.” Therefore, being always free from Original Sin, the Doctrine teaches that, from her conception, Mary received the Sanctifying Grace that would normally come with Baptism after birth.
The Definition makes no declaration about the Church’s belief that the Blessed Virgin was sinless, in the sense of actual or personal sin. However, the Church also holds that Mary was also sinless personally, that she was “free from all sin, Original or personal”. The Council of Trent decreed: “If anyone shall say that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose Grace, and that, therefore, he who falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the contrary, that throughout his whole life he can avoid all sins, even venial sins, except by a special privilege of God, as the Church holds in regard to the Blessed Virgin: let him be anathema.”
The Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (Mary being conceived free from Original Sin) is not to be confused with her Virginal Conception of her Son Jesus. This misunderstanding of the term “Immaculate Conception” is frequently met in the mass media. Catholics believe that Mary was not the product of a Virginal Conception herself, but was the daughter of a human father and mother, traditionally known by the names of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne.
In 1677, the Holy See condemned the belief that Mary was Virginally Conceived, which had been a belief surfacing occasionally since the 4th-Century. The Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (when Mary was conceived free from Original Sin) on 8 December, exactly nine months before celebrating the Nativity of Mary. The Feast of the Annunciation (which commemorates the Virginal Conception and the Incarnation of Jesus) is celebrated on 25 March, nine months before Christmas Day.
Another misunderstanding is that, by her Immaculate Conception, Mary did not need a Saviour. When defining the Dogma Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX explicitly affirmed that Mary was Redeemed in a manner more sublime. He stated that Mary, rather than being cleansed after sin, was completely prevented from contracting Original Sin, in view of the foreseen Merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race.
In Luke 1:47, Mary proclaims: “My Spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.” This is referred to as “Mary’s Pre-Redemption by Christ”. Since the Council of Orange II, against Semi-Pelagianism, the Catholic Church has taught that, even had man never sinned in the Garden of Eden and was sinless, he would still require God’s Grace to remain sinless.
A Feast of the Conception of The Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God was celebrated in Syria on 8 December, perhaps as early as the 5th-Century. Note that the title “ofachrantos” (Spotless, Immaculate, All-Pure) refers to the Holiness of Mary, not specifically to The Holiness of her Conception.
By the 7th-Century, The Feast of her Conception was widely celebrated in the East, under the name of The Conception (active) of Saint Anne. In the West, it was known as The Feast of The Conception (passive) of Mary, and was associated particularly with the Normans, whether these introduced it directly from the East or took it from English usage.
The spread of the Feast, by now with the adjective “Immaculate” attached to its title, met opposition on the part of some, on the grounds that Sanctification was possible only after conception. Critics included Saints Bernard of Clairvaux, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas. Other Theologians defended the expression “Immaculate Conception”, pointing out that Sanctification could be conferred at the first moment of conception in view of the foreseen merits of Christ, a view held especially by Franciscans.
Writers, such as Mark Miravalle and Sarah Jane Boss, interpret the existence of the Feast as a strong indication of the Church’s traditional belief in the Immaculate Conception.
On 28 February 1476, Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan, after whom the Sistine Chapel is named, authorised those Dioceses that wished to introduce the Feast to do so, and introduced it to his own Diocese of Rome in 1477, with a specially-composed Mass and Office of the Feast. With his Bull “Cum praeexcelsa”, of 28 February 1477, in which he referred to the Feast as that of the Conception of Mary, without using the word “Immaculate”, he granted Indulgences to those who would participate in the specially-composed Mass or Office on the Feast itself or during its Octave, and he used the word “Immaculate” of Mary, but applied instead the adjective “Miraculous” to her Conception.

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