Hello Rosary Lovers! Today we will be asking: What is the feast of the Immaculate conception?
To answer this question, we will need to delve into the concept of feasts in the Catholic Church and their overall significance. We will do this first, and then we will look at the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Why do Catholics have feasts?
A feast in the Catholic Church is a special occasion when the Church celebrates an event of real significance.
There are many feasts in the Catholic Church. Some are far more important than others.
Here are some examples of very important feasts:
- Christmas – December 25th
- Epiphany – January 6th
- The Assumption of Mary – August 15th
- All Saints Day – November 1st
Here are some examples of lesser important feast days:
- St Mark – 25th April
- St Catherine of Sienna – 29th April
- St Matthias – 14th May
Does the Church rank feasts in order of importance?
The highest ranking feasts are holy days of obligation (we will look at these later).
The next highest are solemnities.
Then there are regular feasts, such as those mentioned just above.
Then there are memorials, which are reminders of certain saints, but having less importance than feasts.
Lastly there are just regular Church days, but a saint might be remembered optionally that day, such as 6th December for St Nicholas (Father Christmas).
What is a holy day of obligation?
A holy day of obligation is a day that the Church has set aside as very, very important. So important, in fact, that Catholics are commanded – if they are able – to attend Mass on these days, and – if they are able – to cease from ‘servile labour’, and to try to rest.
For instance, Christmas Day is a holy day of obligation.
Every Sunday throughout the year is a holy day of obligation.
The Assumption of Mary is a holy day of obligation.
The Immaculate Conception is a holy day of obligation.
Often, these days are public holidays, especially in Catholic countries, to help nations obey the Church.
Functionally for Catholics, holy days of obligation take on the same importance as Sundays, in that Catholics have to try to get to Mass as a priority, and to rest.
Some of these holy days of obligation fall throughout the week, when many Catholics are working in many countries. For example, 8th December (Immaculate Conception) is not a public holiday in Protestant UK.
In these instances, Catholics have to just do what they can. They might not even be able to make it to Mass, especially if they have necessary family or work commitments.
For those who do not need to work on these days, it is best to try to request from employers to be free from work on these days.
Often, the local Churches celebrate as many as 3 or 4 Masses on Holy days of obligation (or on the Vigil eve before the holy day). This gives as many Catholics as possible the opportunity to obey the Church’s call to attend Mass on these days.
The Church is a good Mother and makes it easy for us to obey her.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, the Catholic Church all over the world suspended indefinitely all holy days of obligation.
This meant that, during the pandemic, all the usual holy days of obligation became Solemnities.
What is a Solemnity?
Solemnities are feasts in the Church which include the following (there are many more):
- Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – 1st January
- Annunication – 25th March
- Feast of Sts Peter and Paul – 29th June
The way I think of them is that though they are not holy days of obligation, it is ideal to get to Mass on these days if possible, because they are often key celebrations in the Church’s year.
Think for instance of the importance of the Annunciation, the beginning of our salvation.
Or Pentecost – a solemnity, but not a holy day of obligation.
The most practical thing to know about a solemnity is that if it happens to fall on a Friday (which quite a few do over the course of a year or two), Catholic do not need to fast/abstain from meat. Solemnities are not a day for penance and sorrow, but for celebration and joy.
In fact, since Solemnities are wonderful occasions of celebration and feasting, Catholics are supposed to feast/eat well. They are not obligated to do this, but they are encouraged to, if possible.
Are the same feasts celebrated throughout the entire Catholic Church?
In short, not really, no.
For some feasts of tremendous importance, like Easter or Christmas, yes, the entire Church celebrates these feasts.
However, even for these feasts, different Catholic rites celebrate them on different days!
The Ukranian Greek Catholic Church, for instance, celebrates Easter and Christmas later than the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. Christmas is celebrated on 7th January by most Ukrainian Greek Catholics.
As for other feasts, many of them are shared by the entire Church, but many are not.
Again, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has a completely different Church calendar to the Latin rite. To illustrate, the beginning of the Church year for the Byzantine rites is 1st September, whereas for the Latin rite it is in November.
There are local saints who receive great veneration in certain parts of the world, and yet are not so venerated in other parts of the Church.
St David is a great example here. He is the most famous saint of Wales, so Wales celebrates 1st March with gusto in the Church. In Wales, 1st March is St David’s day, a Solemnity. Elsewhere, this day is not a solemnity in the Church.
On 26th April, the Catholic Church of England celebrates St George with a solemnity. Yet this is just a regular day in the Catholic Church in Wales.
So even when you have two nations so close to each other – such as Wales and England – they are celebrating different solemnities!
It is important, therefore, to follow the calendar of your local Church. Your local Church should make you aware of this.
Alternatively, you can try the internet, such as this calendar for the Latin rite in England and Wales.
What is the most important feast?
The most important feast is Easter.
By far, Easter is the singular most important day in the Catholic Church’s yearly calendar, and stands on its own.
Easter is so important that all Catholics are commanded – if they are able – to attend Mass and to receive the holy Eucharist on this day.
Catholics are only obligated to receive the Eucharist once a year, at Easter. Many Catholics receive the Eucharist throughout the year, but there is only one day each year when we MUST receive Christ in the Eucharist: Easter.
A Catholic can abstain from receiving the Eucharist for the entire year and only receive Jesus on Easter, and they are still in good standing with the Church, and can still become a saint.
Obviously if a Catholic cannot receive the Eucharist on Easter, or even attend Mass, they are still in good standing with the Church.
The Church only commands us to do what we can do, not what we cannot do.
When is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception?
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception falls every year on the 8th December during the Advent season. It is a holy day of obligation.
What is the Immaculate Conception?
The immaculate conception is an extremely important Catholic belief, and it is also an extremely important Catholic feast day. In many countries, they have a public holiday to celebrate this great day.
The immaculate conception is the dogma/firm belief by Catholics that Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb (St Anne) without any sin at all. That is, from the first moment of Mary’s existence, she was absolutely free from any stain of sin.
This was made possible by the future redemptive work of Jesus. God, by a singular and particular grace towards Mary, applied the future work of Jesus to Mary from the first moment of her existence.
Mary was therefore saved from the very first moment she came into being, by God’s grace.
This doctrine is not up for debate anymore amongst Catholics. There was a long period of time when Catholics were fairly free not to believe in this.
In fact, it has been said that even the greatest theologian in the Catholic Church’s history – St Thomas Aquinas – perhaps did not believe in this doctrine.
Whether this was true or not of St Thomas is questionable, but it is possible. St Thomas lived in the 13th century, and at that time, the Immaculate Conception was not a dogma or even an official doctrine of the Church.
However, gradually as the centuries rolled on, more and more of the Catholic world began to believe that Mary had to have been immaculately conceived. How could God’s own Mother and Temple have ever had any stain of impurity at all at any point?
Finally, in 1854, Pope Pius IX asserted ex cathedra (that is, from the chair of St Peter) that this doctrine MUST be firmly believed by all Catholics.
He did this by finding out the mind of the Church on this matter. As it happened, the Church already believed in it.
Pope Pius therefore sealed forever what the Church already believed. From 1854 onwards, this doctrine was no longer up for discussion. It will stand forevermore as a firm belief of the Church.
The feast of the immaculate conception is so important that the Church makes it one of relatively few holy days of obligation in the Church year.
Mary and 8th December
Catholics have many feasts days in memory of Mary. Among these, 8th December and 15th August (the Assumption) are the two most prized. Both are holy days of obligation.
Catholics have these feast days to keep Mary constantly before them. She is the Temple of God, and the living Throne of the Almighty. Without Mary, we are lost.
Many saints taught that anyone who does not venerate Mary cannot be saved. Mary is absolutely critical to our salvation.
Next to Christ, Mary is by far the most important figure in the Church. We Catholics love to remember her constantly, celebrating the 4 great Marian dogmas:
- Mary as Mother of God
- Mary Ever-Virgin
- Mary Immaculately Conceived
- Mary Assumed Bodily into heaven
Thank you for reading, and I hope you learned a thing or two. If you wish to ask anything, please get in touch in the comments below!
God bless, through Mary, immaculate Seat of Wisdom