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Novena in Preparation for the Immaculate Conception

Novena in Preparation for the Immaculate Conception

– Sister Danielle Peters

On December 8, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception—a doctrine that was solemnly defined by Blessed Pius IX on December 8, 1854—a "day forever memorable in the Church's annals." The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was the result of a long, historical process involving the faithful people's sense of what is from God (sensus fidelium), the work of theologians, and the responsibility of the popes for overseeing, moderating, and defining beliefs.

During the nine coming days we invite our readers to join us in a novena preparing for this feast day. We will highlight doctrinal, liturgical, historical, and scriptural roots which led to the definition of the dogma.

Day 1: November 29
Day 2: November 30
Day 3: December 1
Day 4: December 2
Day 5: December 3
Day 6: December 4
Day 7: December 5
Day 8: December 6
Day 9: December 7


The history of a dogma is of great importance in order to understand how the church arrives at the definition of a particular belief. In the case of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the historical development is especially significant because of lack of explicit scriptural evidence.

Already from the third century on there was a strong conviction that Mary was without sin. The Mother of Jesus Christ was compared to the incorruptible wood of the ark of the covenant and therefore without stain, immaculate, innocent and integral. In the East, Mary was considered the All Holy One (Panhagia).

The difficulty with celebrating Mary’s conception was the certainty that every person is conceived with original sin as Romans 5:12 states: "As through one man sin entered the world, and through sin death, so death passed to all men, in as much as all sinned."

Paschasius Radbertus (786-860), a pioneer in Marian Doctrine, approached the issue with the inquiry whether or not it was appropriate to celebrate the birthday of Mary? Usually, the church celebrates the death day of a saint commemorating his or her new life in heaven. By commemorating Mary’s birthday, the question arose again whether Mary was exempt from original sin.

Eadmer of Canterbury (1124) was the first theologian of the Immaculate Conception. He is famous for "Potuit, voluit, facit." He [God] could, he wanted, he did [create Mary free from original sin]!

We praise you, Mary, Virgin and mother. After the Savior himself, you alone are all holy, free from all stain of sin, gifted by God from the first instant of your conception with a unique holiness.


A breakthrough in thought comes with the Franciscan William of Ware (1305) who argued that God could do anything if it was fitting. He insisted:

"God could create a sinless being. What he could do, it was fitting that He should do so and from this it follows that he did do it. For the Son should honor His mother."

William asserted that Mary needed the Passion of Christ "not on account of any sin that was in her, but on account of that which would have been in her had her Son not preserved her."

The Franciscan was of the opinion that it was better to make a mistake by attributing too much to Mary than not enough.

"If I must err—seeing that I am not certain about the opposite position—I would rather err by excess in giving a privilege to Mary, than by defect, diminishing or taking from her a privilege which she has."

Mary, free from all sin and led by the Holy Spirit, you embraced God's saving will with a full heart, and devoted yourself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the fulfillment of His will in your life, and to the mystery of our redemption. Obtain for us the graces we need to commit ourselves fully to the service of God and those entrusted to our care.


Finally, Duns Scoutus (1308), a student of William of Ware, intervened by using the theological method of 'maximalism.' He proposed that God could have:

1. preserved Mary from original sin or
2. cleansed her of original sin within an instant of her conception or
3. purified Mary of original sin at a particular time before the Annunciation.

Since neither the Bible nor tradition provided an answer, Scotus claimed that it is better to believe and teach too much than too little as long as it was not contradicting Sacred Scripture. Scotus employed the axiom "Deus potuit, decuit, fecit!" God could do it; He deemed it to be fitting and thus He did it!

Scotus further defended his conviction with profound simplicity. He argued that the most perfect form of mediation would be to preserve another from sin. According to Scotus this is what Christ did. He developed the theory of preservative redemption:

"The most perfect Redeemer must have had the most perfect mother. The most perfect method of redemption was to preserve her, which does not do away with original sin but prevents it."

Duns concluded that in Mary alone this method was applied. While Christ's sinlessness was by right; Mary's was by privilege. Subsequently this method was used to explain the Immaculate Conception.

Mary, your holiness from the beginning of your life is the foreshadowing of that all-embracing holiness with which the Father will surround His people when His Son comes at the end of time to greet us. Help us to live our days worthy of our calling.


Some of the more radical proponents of the Immaculate Conception took a vow to defend it even to the point of shedding their blood.

For example, in 1497 the Sorbonne and the University of Oxford required an oath to uphold the teaching of all those acquiring academic degrees. The professors and students at the university of Granada Spain followed suit in 1617.

It is estimated that in the 17th century over 6,485 treatises were published favoring the 'immaculist' position, with a comparable number taking the 'maculist' view.

This was the era which also produced the great paintings of Murillo, de Velasquez, and others.

On May 15, 1693 Innocent II extended the feast to the whole church with an Office and Octave.

Everything in you, Mary, is fiat: you are the Immaculate One, through you shines the fullness of grace.


In 1830 St. Catherine Labouré received a series of apparitions from Our Lady. In the second of three apparitions, on November 27, 1930, St. Catherine Labouré, at the time a novice of the daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, saw an image of Mary standing on a globe with rays coming from her hands, a sign of the help she wished to bestow. Catherine was instructed: Have a medal struck from the image and those who will wear it will receive the protection of the Mother of God.

In 1832 the first 50,000 medals were distributed in Paris and 500,000 in 1834. By the end of the 19th century, more than 100-million medals covered the entire world.

At her canonization in 1947, Pope Pius XII said that Catherine was one of those "chosen by heaven, to quietly contribute to the enrichment of the definition." Extraordinary phenomena like those at Catherine's convent at the Rue de Bac in Paris helped strengthen the belief in the Immaculate Conception.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us; form us into your likeness!


In February of 1849 Pius IX asked for a survey of opinions about the possibility to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Responding to the positive result of the survey Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854 promulgated the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception with the bull Ineffabilis Deus.

"We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."

Already in 1854 there was support for a corresponding definition regarding Mary’s Assumption.

Four years later, on March 25, 1858 in Lourdes, a lovely Lady revealed herself to Bernadette Soubirous as the Immaculate Conception thus confirming the truth of the Catholic doctrine.

And the angel came to her and said, "Rejoice, Highly Favored One! The Lord is with you." May we, too, be conscious of our calling!


The dogma of the Immaculate Conception defines that Mary

1. occupies the highest degree of salvation as a consequence
2. of perfect justice
3. on the basis of merit.

As virginal Mother of God she was at the same time the Daughter of her Son who had redeemed her. Through the gift of the fullness of grace Mary is the embodiment of the supreme virtues of which humanity is made capable. This awesome reality caused even Ulrich Zwingli to call Mary the highest of creatures, second in dignity after God.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception led to the result that if Mary was free of original sin she must also be free of the consequences of the sin we inherited from our first parents. This conviction however may not lead to extremes such as ascribing to the Blessed Virgin Mary the gift of total knowledge of the future.

One of the consequences of the Immaculate Conception is a particularly fine-tuned sensitivity for the reality of God. Correspondingly, Mary lived up to God's expectation bringing to harmony her awareness of God and the practical response to it. Thus, she is the one we call sinless, which implies that her awareness of God's presence corresponds to her status as exceptionally graced creature and the developmental state of her person.

Mother of fairest love! Protect our families so that they may always be united to you and our Son Jesus Christ. Obtain for us that purity of heart so that our thoughts, words an deeds may always be directed to the glory and honor of God.


The Immaculate Conception holds a special place in the history of Catholicism in the US. However the historical details remain somewhat unknown to many US Catholics. 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.

Prior to this event some of the earliest American Catholic colonists, arriving on the shores of Maryland in 1634, consecrated the colony they were about to establish to the Immaculate Conception. The oldest church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception was built in 1666 in Quebec. Another church was built in honor of Mary’s Immaculate Conception on the Prairie de Magdalen in Louisiana in 1675. Mary has been venerated in the Americas ever since early colonial history. When Columbus sailed to this land in the Santa Maria, he named the second island he sighted Santa Maria de la Conception; the first he named San Salvador.

The American bishops at their sixth Provincial Council in Baltimore (1864) proclaimed Mary Immaculately Conceived as the Patroness of the US and requested the Holy Father to confirm this choice. In 1866, the American hierarchy petitioned Rome that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception be made a holy day of obligation in this country. This petition was granted two years later.

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was completed in 1959. The main altar, a solid block of golden onyx resting on Traventine marble, is called the Mary altar, and is a gift of those of our land whose name is Mary.

Immaculate Mother of God and Mother of the Church, grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life from conception until natural death.


The following texts from scripture are used as support in Ineffabilis Deus, though none of these are explicit proof of the doctrine:

- Gen 3:15 – Protoevangelium: Mary, the New Eve.
- Gen 6:8-8:8 – Mary as figure of the Ark of the Covenant
- Gen 28:12 – Jacob's Ladder
- Ex 3:2,3 – Burning Bush
- Ex 31:1-11 – Temple filled with Glory
- Song of Songs 4:4 – Fortified Lover
- Song of Songs 4:12 – Closed Garden
- Psalm 87:1+3 – Heavenly Jerusalem
- 1Kgs 8, 10, 11 – Temple filled with Glory
- Prvbs 8: 22-36 – Temple of His Delight
- Sirach 24: 1-22 – Wisdom personified
- Lk 1: 28 – The Annunciation.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant. From this day all generations shall call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation. He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. (Lk 1:46-55)

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