The Conception of Mary
On December 8th the Church celebrates the feast of the conception of the Virgin Mary by her parents Joachim and Anne. On this major festival which finds its place in the Church's preparation for Christmas, the faithful rejoice in the event by which Mary is conceived in fulfillment of her parents' prayers in order to be formed in the womb, born on the earth, dedicated to the Lord, and nurtured in holiness to become by God's grace the mother of His Son the Messiah.
by Bishop Steve
The Church, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Communion, particularly in the present time, does not call the feast of Mary's beginning the "immaculate conception," although perhaps in ancient times this title would have been fully acceptable. The Ecumenical Catholic Communion in its Constitution (Canon 15) affirms the Declaration of Utrecht of 1889 which explicitly states: "We also reject the dogma of the Immaculate Conception promulgated by Pius IX in 1854 in defiance of the Holy Scriptures and in contradiction to the tradition of the centuries" (no. 3). This "dogma" was an attempt to assert unilateral papal infallibility contrary to the conciliar understanding and practice of the Church up to that point.
This is not because we consider Mary's conception to have been somehow "maculate" or "stained" (macula means "stain" in Latin). It simply means that we do not want to support the conviction that God had somehow to intervene at the moment of Mary's conception with a special action to remove the "stain" of the original sin transmitted by the act of human reproduction because, simply put, like our Eastern Christian sisters and brothers, we do not hold that such a "stain" exists.
We affirm original sin, teaching that all human beings, including the Virgin Mary who is a "mere human" like the rest of us-- unlike her Son Jesus who is a "real human" but not a "mere human" because He is the incarnate Son and Word of God-- are born into a fallen, death-bound, demon-riddled world whose "form is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:31). We are all born mortal and tending toward sin. But we are not born guilty of any personal sin, certainly not one allegedly committed "in Adam." Nor are we born stained because of the manner in which we are conceived by the sexual union of our parents. If sexual union in marriage is in any sense sinful, or the cause in itself of any sinfulness or stain, even in the conditions of the "fallen world," then, as even the rigorous Saint John Chrysostom has taught, God is the sinner because He made us this way, male and female, from the very beginning.
Mary is conceived by her parents as we are all conceived. But in her case it is a pure act of faith and love, in obedience to God's will, as an answer to prayer. In this sense her conception is truly "immaculate." And its fruit is woman who remains forever the most pure Virgin and Mother of God.
Ecumenical Catholic Communion
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By Kedda Keough
As a cradle Catholic I took my identity as "Catholic" for granted. I attended Catholic schools through college, and pursued my Master of Divinity in a Jesuit University. It seemed to me that I knew what it meant to be Catholic. Now I discover that putting words on what is "Catholic Identity", especially in light of moving from the Roman way of being Catholic to the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, has been very challenging. I have come up with some bullet points that are important to me and I offer them to you for your consideration. Much more could be written about each bullet point, but I wanted to keep this reflection as short as possible.
Catholic identity means being:
: All that Catholics do flows toward the "Breaking of the Bread", and all we will do flows out of Eucharist. Eucharist is at the very center of being Catholic. Being a Eucharistic people is the chief identifier of being Catholic. We bring ourselves, and all that we are and do, to the table. We come with thanksgiving. We recognize Christ and we recognize the Body of Christ in the Breaking of the Bread. We are sent out (ita missa est) to transform creation.
: We Catholics use the stuff of creation to express mystery. We are earthy people and use the stuff of earth to speak to us about God and mystery. We know that the way IN to people is through their senses. Often this stuff is what people think of as showing their identity as Catholics. There is lots of "Catholic stuff": Holy water, oils, bread, wine, candles, bishops, priests, deacons, ashes, palms, holy cards, rosaries, pictures/icons/statues of saints, colors, altar, ambo, font, tabernacle, etc. Our symbols need to be "done large" so they speak well.
: Catholics highlight the stages of life through ritual and celebration. These sacraments are transformative, celebrating change; celebrating new life. There are at least 7 sacraments, and I would not be opposed to having more.
: Grace is the starting place for our theological understanding of the relationship between God and Creation. All that is created is good. We begin by seeing all humans as created in the image of God. People are basically good.
Complete text: Catholic Identity (pdf)