Thursday, December 8, 2016, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary the Mother of God. It is a holy day of obligation. Here are the Mass times at nearby chapels and parishes:
Houston Methodist Hospital chapel: 12 noon
CHI Baylor St. Luke’s Hospital chapel: 12 noon
Texas Children’s Hospital chapel: 12 noon.
Memorial Herman Hospital chapel: 12 noon.
St. Mary’s Chapel at Rice University, 1714 Rice Blvd.: 7:15 pm
Holy Rosary Parish, 3601 Milam St.: Vigil on Wed., Dec. 7 – 5:30 pm; Thurs., Dec. 8 – 12:05 pm, 5:15 pm
St. Vincent de Paul Parish, 6800 Buffalo Speedway: Vigil on Wed., Dec. 7 – 7 pm; Thurs., Dec. 8 – 6:45 am, 8:10 am, 12:10 pm, 7:00 pm
St. Anne Parish, 2140 Westheimer Blvd.: Vigil (Spanish) on Wed., Dec. 7 – 7:30 pm; Thurs., Dec. 8 – 7 am, 12 pm
What is the Immaculate Conception, and why is it so important?
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrates the unique and privileged place of Jesus’ mother among His disciples. It is clearly attested to in Scripture: The angel Gabriel, in announcing that she would play a special role of bringing Christ and His redemption to the world, addresses her, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28) and tells her “you have found favor with God” (Lk 1:30). The special favor and grace that God gave her is confirmed in the exchange with her cousin, Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:41-43)
And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk 1:46-49).
Mary was blessed by God in this unique way in order that she would be worthy to bear in herself, and raise as a human boy, the Son of God.
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. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 490)
In order to be the Mother of the Son of God who would redeem the world from sin, she was kept free from sin by the very redemption her Son would bring about on the cross.
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. (CCC 491)
If Mary was conceived without sin, was she not saved?
Some have thought that when the Church teaches that Mary was conceived without sin and lived a sinless life, that this means we believe the mother of Jesus was not and did not need to be redeemed by Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection. And when they read in scripture that Mary declares her “spirit rejoices in God my savior,” this means that she is admitting her sinfulness and need of redemption.
But the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception acknowledges that Mary was redeemed and saved by Christ, but that His redemptive sacrifice is not bound by time. The redeeming action of Christ loving obedience extended into prior human history, pre-redeeming His mother, and preserving her from sin, just as we are redeemed, justified and saved by Christ in the human history subsequent to his dying on the cross.
Moreover, God pre-redeems his human mother in order to prepare the sinless human nature He receives from her so that it may be the instrument by which he atones for the sins of all of fallen humanity. As with all Marian dogmas and devotions, the Church teaches the Immaculate Conception in order to affirm and point to the saving action God brought about through His Son, Jesus Christ.