This Saturday, December 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in which the Church celebrates the clean and pure beginnings of Mary, the Mother of God, from the time she was conceived. Tradition identifies Mary's parents as St. Anne and St. Joachim.
Tradition also plays an important role in the development of this Feast. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a good example of how the lived beliefs of the people led to the declaration of a Church dogma. From the earliest centuries, written testimony exists that Mary was free from original sin. In the East, the Feast was originally called the “Conception of St. Anne,” meaning that Anne had conceived and given birth to Mary. As the centuries went on, devotion to Mary's Immaculate Conception grew, especially among the Franciscans and Carmeliites. In the fifteenth century, Pope Sixtus IV allowed the whole Church to celebrate the Immaculate Conception, but he did not command it. Finally, in 1854, Pope Pius IX elevated the Feast to the highest rank when he declared it a dogma of faith that Mary was conceived without original sin. He wrote:
The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by the virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from original sin (Ineffablis Deus
Interestingly, in the appearance of St. Bernadette at Lourdes, France, in 1858, the Lady eventually identified herself saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Many felt that this was Mary giving her approval for the Church's recognition of her purity. On December 8, 2007, the Church formally begins the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Mary's appearance at Lourdes. This belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary also has roots in the Bible for the Angel Gabriel revealed at the Annunciation of Jesus' birth that Mary was “full of grace.”
- Explore more about the relationship between Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 80-84.
- Point out the relationship between the dates the Church commemorates in the life of Mary: the Annunciation (March 25) is nine months before Christmas; the Immaculate Conception is nine months before the birth of Mary (September 8).
- Relate the story of Mary's appearance at Lourdes. Explain something of how the Church officially approves apparitions. Include mention of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12). If possible show all or part of the film, Song of Bernadette.
- Using a concordance or Bible search engine, have the students look up every Scripture passage that refers to Mary. Ask them to use the Biblical commentary to report on the meaning of one or two of the passages.
- Demonstrate how clean water comes from a clean sponge. Point out how it was necessary for the sinless Savior to be born of a mother who was also preserved from sin.