This week we have two very important celebrations in honor of the most blessed virgin, Mary. On Monday we observe the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the title under which Mary has been designated as the heavenly patroness of our nation. In our nation’s capital, on the grounds of the Catholic University of America, is a very large church of questionable beauty dedicated to Mary under the title of The Immaculate Conception. This is a rather recent title for Mary. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, that Mary was never separated from God by selfishness or sin, and by a special favor of her son, Jesus, was kept free of all sin from the very first moment of her being, i.e. from her conception, was not officially declared until December 8, 1854. So in terms of church things this is still pretty new.
Sometimes people mistake this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception for the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, but that is called the Annunciation, after the angel Gabriel “announcing” to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Savior. It occurs, correctly, exactly nine months before Christmas, on March 25.
Usually this Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8, but this year the Second Sunday of Advent falls on that day. It may seem a little odd to you, but in church thinking the Second Sunday of Advent is more important and takes precedence over the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Wouldn’t want to miss lighting that second candle on the Advent Wreath! So this year Mary’s conception is delayed by one day till December 9, in order to observe the Second Sunday of Advent. Well, at least that is better than the fate of the Feast of St. Juan Diego, the Indian to whom Mary appeared in 1531 at Tepeyac (near Mexico City) as Our Lady of Guadalupe. That feast is normally celebrated on December 9, but this year has been pushed off the calendar entirely by the Immaculate Conception. Too bad, Juan. Perhaps at San Juan Diego High School they will sneak it in on the 10th!
The other Marian feast this week is on Thursday, December 12, which is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This feast has special significance for all Mexicans, but is also significant for us gringos, as Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is revered as Empress of All America, both north and south. So we can count this one as ours, too! On this day we recall Mary’s appearances near Mexico City in December of 1531, expressing her concern for the native Mexican people. They had been recently conquered by the Spanish, and like all conquered peoples were not in a good space as they say. Mary asked for a church where she could display her favor to those in need. And if you visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe you will see the most remarkable outpouring of fervor and faith by the people. It is always moving.
Both the Feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe give honor to the poor, most likely illiterate, peasant woman of Galilee who lived nearly 2,000 years ago, called Miriam (Mary in English). Her accomplishment, one of the greatest of all history, was simply to open herself entirely and without hesitation to God’s Will for her. It may not sound like much, but it literally changed history. And this week we get to celebrate (and hopefully imitate!) that.