In honor of the Basilica’s patronal feast day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we asked Monsignor Rossi, Rector of the Basilica, to explain why this day is so important for the Catholic Church. Read his responses from our Q & A below!
What is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and why is it significant for the Catholic faith?
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, defined by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, states that “The Most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, preserved exempt from all stain of original sin” (Ineffabilis Deus).
For us as members of the Catholic faith, the Immaculate Conception is not just significant, it is essential. Because of the grace of God, Mary was preserved from sin. Because Mary was preserved from sin, she was prepared to become the sinless Mother of Jesus, who by his life, death and resurrection, has ransomed us from sin. Because of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, because of her “yes” to God, we have been redeemed, and given the promise of eternal life through the merits of Mary’s Son, Jesus.
Why do we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception?
Since the beginning of the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary has been regarded as the holiest and the most blessed of all disciples. The celebration of the Immaculate Conception began in the 7th century under the title, “Conception of Mary by Saint Anne” and was changed to “Immaculate Conception” with the definition of the doctrine in 1854.
We can say that the Immaculate Conception was the beginning of our salvation and is now one of the central doctrines of our faith. Because of this, we celebrate the Feast Day to highlight the significant place Our Lady has in salvation history. This Feast is so essential that the Church has raised it to the rank of a Holy Day of Obligation.
How is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception meaningful in the lives of Catholics today?
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception places Our Lady before the faithful as an example of what God can do and what we can do, if like Mary, we put ourselves in God’s hands and at God’s service, always open to what God asks and always seeking to fulfill God’s will.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception also encourages us to do our best to remain free from sin. Although we are all born with original sin and through the grace of Baptism are freed from sin, in the course of our life, because of human weakness, we fail and commit sin. The Immaculate Conception reminds us that if we cooperate with God ‘s grace, as did the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can lead a life as free from sin as is humanly possible.
Why is the Basilica dedicated to Mary under her title the Immaculate Conception?
Back in 1846, at the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore, the bishops of the United States petitioned Pope Pius IX to name Our Lady, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States.
When this request was granted in 1847, the bishops wanted to establish a “patronal church” in our nation’s capital in honor of the Blessed Mother. More than 60 years later, Monsignor Thomas Shahan, then rector of The Catholic University of America, presented a plan to Pope Pius X to establish a national church in honor of the Blessed Mother in Washington. Pope Pius X not only gave his blessing, but gave a personal contribution to begin the construction of what we today know as Mary’s Shrine.
The year 2020 celebrates two centennial anniversaries for this National Shrine. May 16 of this year marked the 100th anniversary of the blessing of the land on which the Shrine was built, and on September 23 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the placing of the Shrine Foundation Stone. Because of COVID-19, all of our commemorations were dramatically scaled down. I pray that 2021 brings a resurgence of life and that we will be able to close out our Jubilee Year in a more celebratory manner!
Light a Candle at the Basilica
In honor of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, we invite you to light a candle today at the Basilica. Vigil candles burn in the chapels throughout the Upper Church and lower crypt level of the National Shrine. Each candle represents the faith of the supplicants and their fervent prayers entrusted to the intercession of the Blessed Mother.