The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is one of those Feast Days that’s either a really big deal in your denomination…or it’s a day you note but it’s not a major Feast…or you don’t think of it at all.
Basically – the Mary’s Natal Day/Feast Day is Sept 8th. Count back 9 months, and you get…Dec 8th. The “Conception” celebrated is that of Mary, Mother of Jesus, and in Roman Catholic theology, Mary is conceived without sin, else how could she have been a vessel for Jesus.
But before we get into that, while it’s a BIG DEAL Feast in the Roman Catholic calendar, it’s a day of note but not major Feast in the Anglican communion (unless you’re of one of those Anglican churches that is close in ties to Catholicism, then you do it up), and the Episcopal Church doesn’t have it as a Day at all…it’s is just a day. Like St. Nicholas, but honestly, not as recognized generally. Up to you.
In my own personal observance of this day, I don’t change my eating habits (so I Fast if it falls on a Friday), but I do spend some time thinking about Mary. When so many others are praying and observing the same thing, it’s a powerful thing to link into that, even if for different reasons.
The Episcopal Catechism states that “Belief in the Virgin Birth does not imply belief in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which holds that Mary was free of all sin, including original sin, from her conception.”
The Episcopal Church also generally holds that you can spend as much time as you need to with how you feel about things, from what “virgin” means to what “sin” means to what it all means in this dynamic where God comes to earth as a tiny, human, baby, borne of a mortal woman. As much time as you need. And, how you connect with it can and will change throughout your life.
I know for me, the experience of having a planned vs. a surprise pregnancy (My first was a pleasant surprise. My second was a planned joyful addition.) has changed how I view the Mary Narrative. One could argue she had both, and neither.
I suspect all women feel differently about Mary as they say “yes” to taking on roles of relationship, of care-giving, of nurturing, which sometimes seem beyond our abilities to do and yet we say yes.
For me, it is not so important if Mary was without sin (and if she managed to get through all her parenting without losing her grits at her kids, more power to her), as to the fact that she consented. She accepted not only God’s will, but God himself, in the most intimate way, and she did it knowing the social ostracism it would bring. She consented, knowing it wasn’t a surrogacy pregnancy, but she would be responsible for caring for, for raising, for protecting, for feeding, for all those million and one ways we mother, for the rest of this Jesus’ life.
Whatever gave her the strength to do that, THAT is what she was born with. The Strength To Consent Conception.
That is what I will be reflecting on this season of Advent on this day.
It is also why the song “Mary Did You Know?” makes me snarly. Yes. She knew. Song over.
But mostly I’ll be reflecting on Mary, Created in God’s Image (as we all are), Full of Grace…and Strength.