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Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
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Although we celebrate the Immaculate Conception during Advent, the season during which we prepare for the birth of Jesus, this feast is NOT about the conception of Jesus. This can be confusing because the Gospel reading for this holy day focuses on the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary. "The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.'" (Luke 1:30-31)
The Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The "immaculate" is not a reference to how she was conceived by her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne. It acknowledges that God intervened and allowed her to be conceived without the stain of original sin.
So why does the Church use the announcement of Jesus' birth as the Gospel for this feast day? Before Gabriel tells Mary that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus, he greets her: “'Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.' But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." (Luke 1:28-30)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the significance of this greeting. "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.' In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's 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.'" (nos. 490-491. See also, nos. 721-726)