Mass Times @ Balally for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8th December 2017:
Thursday: 7.30 pm Vigil Mass
Friday: 10.00am, 1.10pm
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is the subject of a lot of misconceptions (so to speak). Perhaps the most common one, held even by many Catholics, is that it celebrates the conception of Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That the feast occurs only 17 days before Christmas should make the error obvious! We celebrate another feast—the Annunciation of the Lord—on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas. It was at the Annunciation, when the Blessed Virgin Mary humbly accepted the honor bestowed on her by God and announced by the angel Gabriel, that the conception of Christ took place.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in its oldest form, goes back to the seventh century, when churches in the East began celebrating the Feast of the Conception of Saint Anne, the mother of Mary. In other words, this feast celebrates the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of Saint Anne; and nine months later, on September 8, we celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As originally celebrated (and as still celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Churches), however, the Feast of the Conception of Saint Anne does not have the same understanding as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception has in the Catholic Church today. The feast arrived in the West probably no earlier than the 11th century, and at that time, it began to be tied up with a developing theological controversy. Both the Eastern and the Western Church had maintained that Mary was free from sin throughout her life, but there were different understandings of what this meant.
Because of the doctrine of Original Sin, some in the West began to believe that Mary could not have been sinless unless she had been saved from Original Sin at the moment of her conception (thus making the conception “immaculate”). Others, however, including St. Thomas Aquinas, argued that Mary could not have been redeemed if she had not been subject to sin—at least, to Original Sin.
The answer to St. Thomas Aquinas’s objection, as Blessed John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) showed, was that God had sanctified Mary at the moment of her conception in His foreknowledge that the Blessed Virgin would consent to bear Christ. In other words, she too had been redeemed—her redemption had simply been accomplished at the moment of her conception, rather than (as with all other Christians) in Baptism.