Contemplating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
December 8 marks the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is a holy day of obligation, and marks the patronal feast of the United States. The feast celebrates Mary having no original sin from the very moment she was conceived in St. Anne’s womb. God chose her from all of time to be the Mother of God. It is also the closing of the Year of St. Joseph.
There are so many popular feasts during Advent. Children and adults alike love St. Nicholas and St. Lucy; Our Lady of Guadalupe is very prominent in many communities. The celebrations are very visible, with many externals. Even as Catholics there is a bit of commercialism pressure to obtain “items” for these feast days.
When I ponder the feast of the Immaculate Conception, despite it being the most solemn and highest feast day during the Advent season, it is one of the most intangible feasts. The Immaculate Conception sends a different message. It is a feast of something so awesome but is quiet and hidden. There are few visible and vocal reminders. I know it’s a secular reference, but when this feast arrives, I hear the voice of Dr. Suess’s Grinch saying, “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
Yes, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is the celebration of the unveiling of a gift and revealing the plan of Redemption. It will take some quiet and contemplation in order to value the beauty of this gift. The visual aids of activities and arts and crafts aren’t as obvious as for other feasts.
I’m realizing I don’t have to apologize for lack of activities or recipes. The Immaculate Conception can provide a cue of solemnity in contrast to the other feasts surrounding it. How can we model and enter into a celebration without extra materialism?
1. Enter more deeply into the Mass. Read and contemplate.
I like to read through the propers and readings of the Mass as my daily devotional, even if I don’t attend Mass every day. Usually some phrase stands out to me and I ponder throughout the day. There is so much richness to “chew on” for this feast.
I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bride adorned with her jewels.
O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son, grant, we pray, that, as you preserved her from every stain by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw, so, through her intercession, we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.
- Genesis 3:9-15, 20
- Psalms 98:1-4
- Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
- Luke 1:26-38
Prayer Over the Offerings
Graciously accept the saving sacrifice which we offer you, O Lord,
on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
and grant that, as we profess her, on account of your prevenient grace,
to be untouched by any stain of sin, so, through her intercession,
we may be delivered from all our faults. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For you preserved the most Blessed Virgin Mary
from all stain of original sin,
so that in her, endowed with the rich fullness of your grace,
you might prepare a worthy Mother for your Son
and signify the beginning of the Church,
his beautiful Bride without spot or wrinkle.
She, the most pure Virgin, was to bring forth a Son,
the innocent Lamb who would wipe away our offenses;
you placed her above all others
to be for our people an advocate of grace
and a model of holiness.
Glorious things are spoken of you, O Mary, for from you arose the sun of justice, Christ our God.
May the Sacrament we have received, O Lord our God,
heal in us the wounds of that fault, from which in a singular way
you preserved Blessed Mary in her Immaculate Conception.
Through Christ our Lord.
2. Dive also into the Divine Office
In addition, to the Mass, the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours is also a wonderful source of contemplation. Sundays and solemnities include Evening Prayer I and II. Each antiphon contains beautiful words of praise and love to Our Lady, or quotes from Scripture. My favorite part is the second reading in the Office of Readings. The following are all the antiphons for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:
Evening Prayer I
I will make you enemies, you and the woman, your offspring and hers.
The Lord has clothed me with garments of salvation; he has covered me with a robe of justice.
Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with you.
All generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me.
Come, let us celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, let us worship her son, Christ the Lord!
Office of Readings
At her conception Mary received a blessing from the Lord and loving kindness from God her savior.
God gave her his help from the dawning of her days; the Most High has made his dwelling place a holy temple.
Glorious things are said of you, O city of God, established on his holy mountain.
O Mother, how pure you are, you are untouched by sin; yours was the privilege to carry God within you.
The Lord Most High has blessed you, Virgin Mary, above all the women of the earth.
Sinless Virgin, let us follow joyfully in your footsteps; draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness.
The Lord God said to the serpent: I will make you enemies, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring; she will crush your head, alleluia.
Evening Prayer II
You are all beautiful, O Mary; in you there is no trace of original sin.
You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel; you are the fairest honor of our race.
The robe you wear is white as spotless snow; your face is radiant like the sun.
Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, alleluia.
3. Taking It All To Heart
Although not necessary, the liturgy can lead us to simple ways of expression in our Domestic Church, without extra effort or accumulating things. In musical composition there is a technique of “text painting” which uses the styling of music to reflect or emphasize the subject or text within the musical piece. There are few simple ways we can “text paint” the liturgy:
—Marian Hymns: Inspired by the Communion Antiphon, Glorious things are spoken of you, O Mary, for from you arose the sun of justice, Christ our God, our praises are spoken through song.
—Art: Inspired by the Preface, “...his beautiful Bride without spot or wrinkle” and Antiphon 1 of Evening Prayer II: You are all beautiful, O Mary; in you there is no trace of original sin, we can use art to help illustrate Mary’s beauty.
—Color: inspired by Antiphon 3 of Evening Prayer II, The robe you wear is white as spotless snow; your face is radiant like the sun, white foods and tablecloths reflect the purity of Mary.
—Prayer: inspired by both Evening Prayer I and II, Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with you, adding in a rosary or a few Hail Marys in private or family prayer.
The ideas are just simple extensions reflecting the Immaculate Conception, and are not essential. Contemplating Mary through the liturgy is more than enough. The quiet time given for this solemnity can help us deepen our love and praises for Mary and appreciate God’s gift of Salvation History to us.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
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