Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Yes, of Mary, not of Jesus. That distinction is a cause for confusion every year around this time as somebody tries to square the "conception" on December 8 with Jesus' birth on the 25th. (And recent scholars tell us that date probably isn't the 25th but several weeks earlier. So what? As Mr. Pulitzer said, don't let facts get in the way of a good story.)
At any rate, the Immacuate Conception celebrates not so much an event in Mary's life but the doctrine of her freedom from the stain of original sin, the gift of God to she who would carry God's only Son. She was to be the sinless vessel of Jesus, true God and true man, son of Mary and son of God.
Who could put it better than Pius IX, who proclaimed the doctrine of the Church in 1854? As he said on this day 154 years ago: "the doctrine, which holds that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary at the first moment of her conception was, by singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the Human race, preserved from all stains of original sin, is revealed by God, and therefore to be firmly and resolutely believed by all the faithful." (Dogmatic bull Ineffabilis Deus, of Dec. 8, 1854.)
As Catholics attend Mass at any church today, we'll hear the prayers celebrating this great feast of our Blessed Mother. Among them is the day's Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer. Sometimes it's better to read carefully the words we hear at Mass, and let them soak into the fabric of our life, thereby transforming us a little more each day. May it be so:
"Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.
"You allowed no stain of Adam's sin to touch the Virgin Mary. Full of grace, she was to be a worthy mother of your son, your sign of favor to the Church at its beginning, and the promise of its perfection as the bride of Christ, radiant in beauty.
"Purest of virgins, she was to bring forth your son, the innocent lamb who takes away our sins. You chose her from all women to be our advocate with you and our pattern of holiness.
"In joy we sing to your glory with all the choirs of angels: holy, holy, holy Lord..."