Monday, December 9, 2013

Immaculate Conception

On November 10, 1947, Thomas Merton wrote in his journal: “It seems to me that that definition [the Immaculate Conception] was a turning point in the modern history of the Church.  The world has been put into the hands of our Immaculate Lady and she is our hope in the terrible days we live in.”

Since December 8 fell on Sunday this year, the Immaculate Conception is transferred to today (although the obligation doesn't transfer with it). Yet, while not a holy day of obligation this year, today’s transferred celebration of the Immaculate Conception remains a Solemnity in the Church’s calendar and the patronal feast day for the United States of America – and the patronal feast as well of my wonderful East Tennessee parish.

In May 1846, twenty-three bishops of the United States met in Baltimore’s Cathedral of the Assumption for the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore. On May 13, the bishops adopted a decree by which they chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, as Patroness of the United States. The choice of the Immaculate Conception as Patroness of the United States was approved by Blessed Pope Pius IX on February 7, 1847.

The same Pope would go on to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus, on December 8, 1854: 

To the glory of the holy and undivided Trinity, to the honor and ornament of the Virgin Mother of God, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of Christian religion, We, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by Our own authority declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary from the first moment of her conception was, by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin, is revealed by God and is therefore firmly and constantly to be believed by all the faithful.

The following year, when Knoxville’s first Catholic parish was established it too was placed under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception.

An American prayer composed in 1959 fittingly invokes Mary's patronage:

Most Holy Trinity, we put the United State of America into the hands of Mary Immaculate in order that she may present the country to you. Through her we wish to thank you for the great resources of this land and for the freedom which has been its heritage. Through the intercession of Mary, have mercy on the Catholic Church in America. Grant us peace, Have mercy on our President and on all the officers of our government. Grant us a fruitful economy born of justice and charity. Have mercy on capital and industry and labor. Protect the family life of the nation. Guard the innocence of our children. Grant the precious gift of many religious vocations. Through the intercession of our Mother, have mercy on the sick, the poor, the tempted, sinners - on all who are in need.

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