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Immaculate Conception: United States

Immaculate Conception: United States

Q: Mary’s Immaculate Conception in the U.S.A.?

A: Already at the Sixth Provincial council of Baltimore in May 17, 1846, the bishops of the United States had proclaimed Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, the principal patroness of the whole country. At that period of time in the last century the Immaculate Conception was a doctrine in the forefront of Catholic theology study and discussion. Less than a decade later Pope Pius IX would define this privilege of Mary as a dogma of faith. However the U.S. bishops had not yet raised the feast of a holy day of obligation. The Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884 made the feast a holy day of obligation for all dioceses of the U.S.A., and Rome approved the decision in 1885. For more specifics, see "Ecclesiastical Feasts" (F. Holweck), The Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 6, 1909.

Well before 1776 and colonial independence American Catholics of English, French, and Spanish origin celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception with great interest and devotion. Father Marquette, the famed French explorer, placed his voyage down the Mississippi River under the protection of the Immaculate Virgin, and renamed the Indian village of Kaskasia Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the Mississippi River Conception River. This intrepid missionary-explorer even devised a chaplet of the Immaculate Conception.

In the Spanish colonies the feast had been established as a holy day of obligation by the First Provincial Council of Lima in 1552. One of the earliest chapels in what is now the U.S. was that of the Convento de Inmaculada Concepcion in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1573. The Franciscans in 1629 built La Purisima Conception Mission in New Mexico, where to this day is found a strong devotion to Maria la Purisima. In California another Mission La Purisima Concepcion was established by the Franciscans in 1787.

In many parts of the United States a novena is celebrated in preparation for the feast, a practice which most likely was brought by the evangelizing Spanish missionaries and colonists. Blessed Junipero Sera, the Apostle of California, composed on such novena. The relationship between the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s Motherhood is highlighted in Spain by the celebration of Mother’s day on December 8.

Like all feasts of our Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception Joins in one celebration both the church’s doctrine about Mary and the great filial love in which she is held by the church worldwide.

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