THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8: Two billion Christians may be preparing for Christ’s birth, but today’s feast is dedicated solely to Jesus’ mother—the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
This Catholic dogma often is confused with Christ’s virgin birth. In this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Mary herself is regarded as having been conceived without the stain of original sin. According to Catholic teaching, Mary was freed from original sin at conception and filled with God’s grace. (Get more information and readings at FishEaters.) Hence, when Gabriel approached Mary and informed her of God’s plan for a virgin pregnancy, the angel regarded her as already “full of grace.”
The Christian church has marked the Feast of the Conception of Mary for hundreds of years, but the Immaculate Conception wasn’t universally proclaimed by Catholic leaders until 1854. The promulgation of this teaching was also a landmark in the development of the doctrine of papal infallibility, because this declaration carried that weight from Pope Pius IX and bishops gathered around him at the Vatican. (Wikipedia has details. Or, get more details at Catholic.com.)
The Christian church—East and West—also traditionally declares Mary as sinless throughout her life, although this teaching is distinct from the specific doctrine of Immaculate Conception.