December 8 is more than the celebration of the conception of the Blessed Virgin without original sin. It is the national feast day of the United States.
Bishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States consecrated the United States to the Immaculate Conception in 1792. This might come as a surprise to those who remember that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not proclaimed officially until Pope Pius IX issued Ineffabilis Deus (Ineffable God) on December 8, 1854.
The dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception refers to the fact that by a special grace of God when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, whom tradition calls St. Anne, she was conceived without original sin, as would be appropriate for the one chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Although the dogma was not proclaimed officially until 1854, the feast has a long history in the church.
Eastern Christians began celebrating a feast of St. Anne’s conception as early as the eighth century. It was celebrated on December 9. About 200 years later, Christians in the West began observing the feast, but, as the conception of Mary without original sin. It was made universal in 1476 as the Feast of the Conception of Mary.
So Bishop Carroll’s devotion to Mary as the Immaculate Conception was part of an ancient tradition in the Church. His consecration of the United States to the Immaculate Conception was formalized by Pope Pius IX in 1847, five years before he proclaimed the dogma.
Many will remember the story of St. Bernadette Soubirous, the French peasant girl to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared at Lourdes in 1858. When St. Bernadette asked for her name, Mary responded “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Bishop Carroll’s consecration is recognized by the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. It is the largest Catholic church in the United States, the eighth largest religious structure in the world and the tallest habitable building in Washington, D.C. Only the Washington Monument is taller.
Happy Feast Day America!