Feast of the Immaculate Conception

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Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Mary's holy and immaculate conception, by Francisco Rizi, Museo del Prado, 17th-century, Oil on canvas.
Observed by Roman Catholic Church
Significance Belief in the most pure and sinless conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary without Original Sin
Celebrations Festive pageantry, grand fireworks, cultural dancing, ethnic foods
Observances Mass and other liturgical celebrations
Date December 8
Next time 8 December 2022 (2022-12-08)
Frequency annual
Related to Nativity of Mary

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the solemn belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is universally celebrated on December 8, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on September 8. It is one of the most important Marian feasts celebrated in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church celebrated worldwide.

By Pontifical designation and decree, it is the patronal feast day of Argentina, Brazil, Korea, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, Spain, the United States and Uruguay. By royal decree, it is also designated by as the Patroness of Portugal. It is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church as well as a few other closely related Christian churches.

On this day since 1854, the Holy See through the Sacred Congregation of Rites grants the Spanish crown the expressed privilege of permitting blue vestments for their present and former territories.[1] Since 1953, the Pope as Bishop of Rome visits the Column of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna to offer expiatory prayers commemorating the solemn event.

The feast was first solemnized as a Holy Day of Obligation[2] on 6 December 1708 under the Papal Bull Commissi Nobis Divinitus[3][4] by Pope Clement XI[5] and is often celebrated with Holy Mass, parades, fireworks, processions, ethnic foods, and cultural festivities in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is generally considered a Family day, especially in many Catholic countries.


A modern statue of the Immaculate Conception atop a public square in the main street of Košice, Slovakia.

The Eastern Christian Church first celebrated a "Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God" on December 9, perhaps as early as the 5th century in Syria. The original title of the feast focused more specifically on Serming it "Bòśšôm tes hagias kai theoprometoros Annas" ("The Conception of Saint Anne, the ancestress of God").[6] By the 7th century, the feast was already widely known in the East. However, when the Eastern Church called Mary achrantos ("spotless" or "immaculate"), this was not defined.

At present time, the majority of Orthodox Christians do not accept the scholastic definition of Mary's preservation from original sin before her birth that subsequently evolved in the Western Church after the Great Schism of 1054.[7] After the feast was translated to the Western Church in the 8th century, it began to be celebrated on December 8. It spread from the Byzantine area of Southern Italy to Normandy during the period of Norman dominance over southern Italy. From there it spread to England, France, Germany, and eventually Rome.[8]

In 1568, Pope Pius V revised the Roman Breviary and though the Franciscans were allowed to retain the Office and Mass written by Bernardine dei Busti, this office was dropped for the rest of the Church and the office of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin was substituted instead, the word "Conception" being substituted for "Nativity."[9]

According to the Papal Bull Commissi Nobis Divinitus, dated 6 December 1708, Pope Clement XI mandated the feast as a day of Solemnity and a Holy Day of Obligation which is to be celebrated in future years by the faithful.[10] Furthermore, the pontiff requested that the papal bull be notarized in the Vatican to be further copied and reproduced for dissemination.

Prior to Pope Pius IX's definition of the Immaculate Conception as a Roman Catholic dogma in 1854, most missals referred to it as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The festal texts of this period focused more on the action of her conception than on the theological question of her preservation from original sin. A missal published in England in 1806 indicates the same collect for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was used for this feast as well.[11]

The first move towards describing Mary's conception as "immaculate" came in the 11th century. In the 15th century Pope Sixtus IV, while promoting the festival, explicitly tolerated both the views of those who promoted it as the Immaculate Conception and those who challenged such a description, a position later endorsed by the Council of Trent.[6]

The proper for the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Medieval Sarum Missal, perhaps the most famous in England, merely addresses the fact of her conception.

The collect for the feast reads:

O God, mercifully hear the supplication of thy servants who are assembled together on the Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, may at her intercession be delivered by Thee from dangers which beset us.[12]

In 1854, Pius IX made the infallible statement Ineffabilis Deus: "The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant 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."[13]

When December 8 falls on Sunday the feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on 9 December.

Cultural impact

The feast is a public holiday in Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guam, Italy, Liechtenstein, Macau, Malta, Monaco, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, San Marino, Seychelles, Spain, Vatican City, Venezuela, and in the Catholic Cantons of Switzerland.[14] Some countries do not observe December 8 as a public holiday, but their respective Episcopal Conferences have declared the day as a Holy Day of Obligation in, for example, Ireland, the Philippines, and the United States.

December 8 is also celebrated as Mother's Day in Panama in honor of the holiday and is therefore a national holiday.

The University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, celebrates "Christmas on Campus" on December 8 in conjunction with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In Leon, Nicaragua, the feast is celebrated with a tradition called Griteria composed of grand parades, fireworks, songs and various religious activities related to the conception of the Virgin Mary and her maternal role in Roman Catholicism. Similar practices are observed in various other Catholic countries.

In the Spanish colonial district of Intramuros in Manila, Philippines, the day is marked with a religious and military parade called the Grand Marian Procession, held annually by the Cofradía de la Inmaculada Concepción. Over a hundred Santos of the Virgin Mary in her various titles are borne in a procession that culminates in the Plaza de Roma fronting Manila Cathedral (which is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception).

Blue liturgical vestments

File:Inmaculada Pedro de Sierra.jpg
The solemn belief is celebrated in many countries and has inspired much sacred artwork. The Immaculate Conception, by Pedro de Sierra, (circa 1735) Valladolid, Spain.

The Holy See, through the Sacred Congregation of Rites grants the expressed privilege to use blue or cerulean vestments on this day for the Spanish crown and their former territories. Numerous pontiffs have expressed the same sentiment via a Pontifical decree, namely the following:

  • Pope Pius VII granted the expressed privilege to permit blue vestments to the Diocese of Seville in 28 November 1819.
  • Pope Pius IX granted to the Primate of Spain on 8 December 1854 within the Diocese of Toledo. The same privilege of allowing blue vestments for Cuba on 5 May 1862. Ultimately, he clarified the privilege extended to all Spanish colonies on a decree dated 12 February 1864.
  • Pope Leo XIII accorded the privilege of blue vestments for Peru on a papal document dated 25 September 1891.
  • Pope Pius X reiterated this sentiment for both former and present territories of Spain via a pontifical decree on 7 September 1903. The same Pontiff issued a papal bull retaining the privilege for the Philippines to use blue vestments on 11 February 1910. The bull was signed and executed by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val.

Several petitions were submitted to the Holy See to use blue or violet vestments for other feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, considered an ecclesiastical abuse by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, thus was ruled against in 23 February 1839.

Anglican Communion

In the Church of England, the "Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary" may be observed as a Lesser Festival on 8 December. The situation in other constituent churches of the Anglican Communion is similar, i.e., as a lesser commemoration.[15] Many Anglo-Catholic parishes observe the feast using the traditional Roman Catholic title, the "Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary".

Eastern Orthodoxy

While the Eastern Orthodox Churches have never accepted the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception, they do celebrate December 9 as the Feast of the Conception by St. Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos. While the Orthodox believe that the Virgin Mary was, from her conception, filled with every grace of the Holy Spirit, in view of her calling as the Mother of God, they do not teach that she was conceived without original sin as their understanding of this doctrine differs from the Roman Catholic articulation.[16] The Orthodox do affirm that Mary is "all-holy" and never committed a personal sin during her lifetime.[citation needed]

The Orthodox feast is not a perfect nine months before the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8) as it is in the West, but a day later. This feast is not ranked among the Great Feasts of the church year, but is a lesser-ranking feast (Polyeleos).

See also


  1. Siniculus. "Dei praesidio fultus: Liturgical blue".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Clementis XI, Papam - CXX - Mandatur ut Festum Conceptionis beatae Mariae Virginis Immaculatae de praecepto ubique observetur - Commissi Nobis Divinitus sacrosancti apostolatus officii exigit ratio, ut gloriossimae Virginis Dei genitricis Mariae cuius Conceptio gaudium annuciavit universo mundo, venerationem et cultum, plurium Romanorum Pontificum praedecessorum nostrorum more, ampliare studentes in terris, illius, quae super choros angelorum exaltata pro populo Christiano sedula exoratrix apud eum, quem genuit, assidue intercedit in caelis, potentissimam opem in toltantisque, quibus premimur, Christianae reipublicae et Catholicae Ecclesiae necessitatibus, quantum nobis ex alto conceditur, promereri iugiter satagamus. Datum Romae, apud Sanctum Petrum, sub annulo Piscatoris, die 6 Decembris 1708 Pontificatus Nostri Anno IX. - http://www.icar.beniculturali.it/biblio/pdf/bolTau/tomo_21/02_T21_189_368.pdf (PP. 338)
  3. "Encyclopedia of Christian Theology".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Introduction".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. De Maria Numquam Satis: The Significance of the Catholic Doctrines on the Blessed Virgin Mary for All People, Judith Marie Gentle, Robert L. Fastiggi eds., University Press of America, 2009, ISBN 9780761848479
  6. 6.0 6.1 "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Immaculate Conception".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos). The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin Books, 1963), pp. 263-264.
  8. Francis X. Weiser. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958), p. 292.
  9. Habig O.F.M., Marion A. "Land of Mary Immaculate", The American Ecclesiastical Review, June 1954
  10. Commissi Nobis Divinitus - VI Decembris 1708 - Clementis XI, Papam - Sincera itaque nostra erga eamdem augustissimam caeli reginam, patronam, advocatam, nostram, devotione incitati festum conceptionis ipsius beatae mariae virginis immaculatae ubique terrarum in posterum ab omnibus et singulis utriusque sexus christifidelibus sicut alia festa de praecepto observationis festorum comprehendi auctoritate apostolica, tenore praesentium decernimus praecipimus et mandamus. ...Volumus autem ut earumdem praesentium literrarum transumptis, seu exemplis etiam impressis, manu alicuius notarii publici subscriptis, et sigillo personae in ecclesiastica dignitate constitutae munitis, eadem prorsus fides adhibeatur ipsis praesentibus si forent exhibitae vel ostensae.
  11. The Roman Missal in English Tr. John England (Philadelphia: Eugene Chummiskey, 1843), p. 529.
  12. The Sarum Missal in English Tr. A. Harford Pearson (London: The Church Printing Co., 1834), p. 332.
  13. Ineffabilis Deus the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1854), in the Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. 1, p. 615.
  14. "Earth Calendar".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. http://prayerbook.ca/the-prayer-book-online/57-the-calendar-ix
  16. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, 1963, ISBN 0-14-020592-6), pp. 263-4.

External links

ga:Féile Mhuire gan Smál