Today, December 8, is the celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is a holy day of obligation within the Church, which means that Catholics are required to attend Mass on this day.
I think there is a large amount of confusion among non-Catholics with regard to the doctrine of Immaculate Conception. Many probably assume that this refers to the conception of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. While this is one of the great mysteries of Christianity, it is not what is referred to here.
The Immaculate Conception refers specifically to the birth of the Virgin Mary. This Catholic doctrine affirms that Mary was born without sin. She is the new Eve. She was conceived by God with an immaculate soul so that she could become the vessel through which Jesus would be born into the world.
"Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" This is the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary when he appeared before her. The Archangel treats Mary with royal respect when he addresses her with the word "Hail". Like Eve, Mary is "full of grace". Gabriel adds the words, "The Lord is with you." The word "angel" comes from the Greek word for messenger. Thus, the words of Gabriel to Mary are a message from God.
Mary is startled by these words and silently wonders "what sort of greeting this might be." To which the Angel replies, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God."
Mary is the favored one of God, or perhaps the favorite. Although there is no mention of the parents of Mary in the Bible, tradition says that her parents were St. Joachim and St. Anna.
The Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception is the patron saint of the United States, although this seems to go unnoticed among American Catholics. The national basilica in Washington, D.C. is named the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!"
But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."
And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?"
And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible."
And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."
And the angel departed from her.
– Luke 1:26-38