Immaculate Conception - History

History

A feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God was celebrated in Syria on 9 December perhaps as early as the 5th century. Note that the title of achrantos (spotless, immaculate, all-pure) refers to the holiness of Mary, not specifically to the holiness of her conception.

By the 7th century the feast of her conception was widely celebrated in the East, under the name of the Conception (active) of Saint Anne. In the West it was known as the feast of the Conception (passive) of Mary, and was associated particularly with the Normans, whether these introduced it directly from the East or took it from English usage. The spread of the feast, by now with the adjective "Immaculate" attached to its title, met opposition on the part of some, on the grounds that sanctification was possible only after conception. Critics included Saints Bernard of Clairvaux, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. Other theologians defended the expression "Immaculate Conception", pointing out that sanctification could be conferred at the first moment of conception in view of the foreseen merits of Christ, a view held especially by Franciscans.

Writers such as Mark Miravalle and Sarah Jane Boss interpret the existence of the feast as a strong indication of the Church's traditional belief in the Immaculate Conception.

On 28 February 1476, Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan after whom the Sistine Chapel is named, authorized those dioceses that wished to introduce the feast to do so, and introduced it to his own diocese of Rome in 1477, with a specially composed Mass and Office of the feast. With his bull Cum praeexcelsa of 28 February 1477, in which he referred to the feast as that of the Conception of Mary, without using the word "Immaculate", he granted indulgences to those who would participate in the specially composed Mass or Office on the feast itself or during its octave, and he used the word "immaculate" of Mary, but applied instead the adjective "miraculous" to her conception. On 4 September 1483, referring to the feast as that of "the Conception of Immaculate Mary ever Virgin", he condemned both those who called it mortally sinful and heretical to hold that the "glorious and immaculate mother of God was conceived without the stain of original sin" and those who called it mortally sinful and heretical to hold that "the glorious Virgin Mary was conceived with original sin", since, he said, "up to this time there has been no decision made by the Roman Church and the Apostolic See." This decree was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent.

One of the chief proponents of the doctrine was the Hungarian Franciscan Pelbartus Ladislaus of Temesvár.

Under Pope Pius V, the Pope who in 1570 established the Tridentine Mass, included the feast (but without the adjective "Immaculate") in the Tridentine Calendar, but suppressed the existing special Mass for the feast, directing that the Mass for the Nativity of Mary (with the word "Nativity" replaced by "Conception") be used instead. Part of that earlier Mass was revived in the Mass that Pope Pius IX ordered to be used on the feast and that is still in use.

On 6 December 1708, Pope Clement XI made the feast of the Conception of Mary, at that time still with the Nativity of Mary formula for the Mass, a Holy Day of Obligation. Until Pope Pius X reduced in 1911 the number of Holy Days of Obligation to 8, there were in the course of the year 36 such days, apart from Sundays.

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