Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, immaculate or otherwise

Today is an old commemoration on the western Christian Church Calendar – though not one found in the official Episcopal Calendar: “The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” A take on its history may be found here. Suffice it to say that this feast – along with most others in the Marian Cycle – shows a strong symmetry with the events of Christ’s life, linking Mary and her son in many ways for theological and poetic reflection.
For the Roman Catholic Church, this is a major day celebrating a key Dogma or teaching for that communion. For the majority of Anglicans, it is at best a minor commemoration. Like most of the Marian Feasts, it was stripped out of the Church's calendar in the Reformation owing to no discussion of this event being found in the New Testament. However, aspects of it continued to be found in our tradition (notably a commemoration of Sts. Anna and Joachim – the traditional names for the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
The Anglican Church tradition continues to have different opinions about the exact nature of Mary’s condition vis-à-vis Original Sin. Some commentators are quite clear that Mary was cleansed of that taint in order to be fit to bear the Son of God into the world (thus many Christmas carols and hymns speak of "a virgin most pure" or with some other such language as a way of indicating her unique status). Others have done all in their power to say that Mary was in no way different from any other human being in all but her personal calling and faith. The result is that the Anglican tradition has no one official teaching on the question of the nature of her conception; however, the Episcopal Church is clear in its affirmation of the ancient Church’s practice of according the Blessed Virgin the title Theotokos or “God-bearer,” and thus the highest honor of any saint. As with the Early and Undivided Church, we leave it there, allowing believers to draw their own conclusions.
For those Anglicans who continue to observe this Feast, it is often a time to consider a great mystery beyond complete definition but worthy of reverence and thanksgiving.
On this day we contemplate both St. Mary’s mission as a human being and the fruits of that mission which were already potentially present at the outset of her life. She shares with us the essential qualities of humanity, and would give those qualities to the Son of God whom she would bear. But, she also was in some way set apart for a special service to God – one that astounds when it is contemplated. So, too, is our calling: while we cannot compare our own vocation to hers in some ways, we must never forget that each one of us has been given gifts and capacities for a particular mission as part of God’s Holy People – and we will be called to account for how we have used these gifts in the service of our God who desires all to be brought to its fulfillment in Him. That is a worthy reason to keep this feast, surely.

A Collect for the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Almighty and everlasting God, who didst stoop to raise our fallen race by the childbearing of blessed Mary; Grant that we who have seen thy glory manifested in our humanity, and thy love perfected in our weakness, may daily be renewed in thine image, and conformed to the likeness of thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


  1. Thank you for your meditations of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary...after reading this, I know that I can come and worship at St. Timothy's with a certainty that in that sacred space, who still cling to the sacred traditions of our most Holy Faith!

  2. Dear Anonymous Commenter: While hardly a perfect place, St. Timothy's is a good place - one where we seek to live out the Classical Anglican vision of Christianity in our day. "Come and see" about our life in Christ!