This week, we celebrate as a liturgical solemnity the Immaculate Conception. This is a key day for us, as Catholics, both as Americans and as members of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, because the Blessed Virgin is the patroness of the U.S. and patroness of the Brooklyn Diocese.
During the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore (May 13, 1846), the bishops of the United States chose our Blessed Mother, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as the patroness of our country.
What is interesting about the U.S bishops’ choice was that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not declared by Pope Pius IX until December 8, 1854. This, of course, did not mean that Catholics did not believe in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception until the Holy Father declared it.
It was long believed that Mary, the Mother of God, was kept free from the first moment of her conception from the stain of original sin so that she could be the spotless Mother of God.
The Immaculate Conception is not the Virgin birth, although it is intrinsically tied to it. No, the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception and birth of Mary. It is the fact that Mary is the Immaculate Conception, a fact revealed by the Virgin herself to Saint Bernadette in Lourdes, France in 1858, that makes Mary to be the “predestined by grace by eternal decree” God-willed Virgin and Mother.
The Diocese of Brooklyn, established in 1853, chose the Immaculate Conception as the patroness of this new diocese, broken off from the Archdiocese of New York, and, in fact, dedicated all of her seminaries to her honor as the Immaculate Conception. Yes, Dec. 8 is a big day for us here in Brooklyn and Queens. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:
“To become the mother of the Savior, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.’ The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as ‘full of grace.’
“Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”