8TH DECEMBER – THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION – CELEBRATING THE SINLESS EVE.
When the archangel Gabriel greeted Mary it was with the words that she was “full of grace” – we still use the same words today. So that Mary could become the Mother of God the Catholic Church teaches that from the moment of her conception Mary was, through the grace of God, free from all sin. All human beings are born in a state of original sin which is why we are brought to the font to be Baptised. Sin is part of our everyday lives which is why we go to Confession. Mary was preserved from that because, since time began, God had singled her out for a special job – to be the Mother of Jesus, God’s Only Son. Only without a single sin to restrain her was Mary able to give the angel the answer that would redeem humanity.
This was defined as something that all Catholics have to believe by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Its history is much older and can be traced to the eastern church in the middle of the eighth century although it was not universally observed there until the end of the ninth century. The feast is known to have been celebrated in certain dioceses in England before the Norman Conquest and in the mid eleventh century brought to England by pilgrims returning from the Holy Land.
The feast seems to have come to Rome by a similar route, brought by monks fleeing Saracen invaders in Jerusalem where they had kept the feast for centuries. They continued to do so in their new home. It was there that the Abbot Anselm, nephew of another Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, encountered them. Abbot Anselm’s reintroduction of the feast brought about a considerable revival in England of belief in and devotion to the Immaculate Conception from where it spread southwards into the continent of Europe.