Catholics around the world mark the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Thursday, Dec. 8, a day that signifies the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.
“The Catholic Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception is, in my opinion, one of our most beautiful yet frequently misunderstood doctrines,” Fr. Cassidy Stinson, a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, told Fox News Digital.
“In brief, this feast day celebrates the belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was prepared for her unique and special role as the Mother of God by the gift of being redeemed and protected at the time of her conception from the effects of original sin, which we normally inherit from our parents,” he also said.
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While many people assume the phrase “immaculate conception” refers to the conception of Jesus, this is incorrect, said Stinson.
“Often, this doctrine is easily confused with an event that’s probably more familiar to us: the conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Annunciation,” he said.
The Annunciation is celebrated nine months before Christmas on March 25.
And while the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is “centered on Mary,” Stinson clarified that “like everything that the Catholic Church celebrates about our lady, at its heart it always leads us back to Jesus, her son.”
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In the United States, and in a handful of other countries, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a holy day of obligation.
Catholics must attend Mass on that date or a vigil Mass the evening before, says the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In parts of Europe, as well as in many countries in Central and South America, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is also a public holiday.
The title Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is particularly important for American Catholics.
In 1846, the bishops of the United States unanimously declared the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, as the patroness of the United States, according to the website of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located in Washington, D.C., near the campus of the Catholic University of America.
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It is the largest Catholic church in North America; the shrine is known as “America’s Catholic Church.”
In Thursday’s Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Pope Francis encouraged people to entrust themselves to Mary amid the struggles of the world.
“Today the word of God teaches us another important thing: that to safeguard our beauty demands a cost, it demands a struggle,” said the pope.
Choosing not to sin “takes effort,” he said.
“It costs us; it takes effort to safeguard the good that is in us.”
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“Today,” he also said, “we have good news: Mary, the only human being in history without sin, is with us in the battle, she is our sister and, above all, our mother,” said Pope Francis.
“And we, who struggle to choose good, can entrust ourselves to her,” he said.
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“By entrusting ourselves, consecrating ourselves to Mary, we say to her: ‘Take me by the hand, Mother, guide me: with you I will have more strength in the battle against evil; with you I will rediscover my original beauty.’”