This feast is celebrated to remind us that the Mother of God was conceived and born into the world free from the stain of original sin. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, solemnly defined by Pope Pius IX December 8, 1854, states: “that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary in the first instant of conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted to her by almighty God through the mercies of Christ Jesus, Savior of mankind, was preserved from all stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore must be held firmly and constantly by all faithful Christians.”
The first written source concerning the observance of this feast is the typicon of St. Sabbas, (although under a different name, namely “The conception of St. Ann,” when she conceived the Blessed Mother). Though this typicon is dated 485 A.D., this is already a revision of the original work and it is possible that the feast was already mentioned in the earlier version. The same feast is also mentioned in the cannon and the solemn hymns of St. Andrew of Crete (720 A.D.). In the eighth century we find detailed information in the sermons of John of Euboea. George of Nicomedia, a Greek preacher of the ninth century, has left a sermon for this day. It bears the title “Concerning the Child-Begetting of St. Anne,” and was intended for a festal occasion, indicating that the day was already considered a feast. George, in fact, no longer thought it necessary to urge the observance of the day but took its existence for granted. Yet another writer in the same century, Peter of Argos, spoke of it as an accepted fact.
In trying to establish a date for the introduction of this feast, the following fact must also be considered. The feast of the Conception of the Mother of God is similar in its basic idea to the conceptions of Christ and of John the Baptist as described in Sacred Scriptures. The child-begetting of St. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, was celebrated in East and West as was the conception of Christ, the Annunciation. By virtue of this analogy, we may deduce that the Conception of the Mother of God must have been celebrated about the same time, that is, in the fifth century. The exalted person of the Mother of God, and the reverence paid to her from earliest times, would most strongly suggest that the feast of her Immaculate Conception originated even before the feast of the Conception of St. John was celebrated. This showed early realization of the fact that Christ’s Mother was in every respect greater than His Precursor.
St. John Damascene states that this feast was celebrated in the East in the eighth century and was already ancient at that time. The antiquity of the feast is further indicated by the fact that all Eastern schismatics accept it, proving its existence before the age of schisms. We must note, however that in the East the feast of the Immaculate Conception was known under the name of “Child-begetting of St. Anne,” and was always celebrated on December 9, as it is to this day. The reason for the difference of one day in the observance of the feast in the West (December 8) has never been explained.
St. John Damascene (749 A.D.), “Doctor of the Incarnation” and the last of the Eastern Fathers of the Church, counts the safeguarding of Mary from original sin as a miracle: “Why is the Virgin Mother born of a once sterile mother? Plainly, because it was necessary that the road to that which was to be a new thing under the sum and the chief among wonders should be paved by wonders and that a gradual ascent should be made from the lower to the more sublime. For the rest, I can advance yet another higher and more divine reason. Nature yields before grace and stands irresolute, ceasing to act. Since, therefore, the Mother of God was to be born a Virgin of Anna. Nature did not dare to impede the bud of grace but remained devoid of fruit while grace was bringing forth its fruit.” (First Sermon on the Nativity of Mary. In the East, under the influence of special grace in the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the natural nine-month period of pregnancy was shortened by one month.
It is also interesting to note that the Apostolic See, in reviewing the liturgical books of Byzantine rite, retained in the newly published Liturgicon, Book of Epistles, Gospels, and the Missal (Tchasoslov) for Sundays and Holy days the older name of the feast – “The Child-Begetting of St. Anne who conceived the Blessed Birthgiver of God.
Next Feast Days
|December 6||Feast of St. Nicholas|
|December 9||Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God|
|December 25||Nativity of our Lord (Christmas)|
|December 26||Synaxis of the Mother of God|