An Unknown Patroness: The Immaculate Conception

“O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

Juan de Sevilla (1643-1695), “The Immaculate Conception”
Juan de Sevilla (1643-1695), “The Immaculate Conception” (photo: Public Domain)

Every year for the past eight years or so, our family has had the tradition of taking annual patron saints. This has been the source of some specific blessings, even beyond that gift of coming to know and have the patronage of a heavenly friend for a given year.

My mom picks names at random out of a bag, usually one for each of us. For the more technically-inclined Catholics, there is now also a computer-generated selection option, made available through Jennifer Fulwiler’s “Saint’s Name Generator.” In choosing a patron for the year, it is also appropriate to proceed with prayer, asking that the Holy Spirit guide this choice. Our family chooses at the beginning of the new liturgical year, but it would be just as fitting to pick at the beginning of the calendar year.

This past year my mom (or perhaps more aptly, the Holy Spirit) gave me the Immaculate Conception, a title of the Blessed Mother. Little did I know how appropriate this patroness would be in a year in which the Church, especially in the United States, would know the need for healing and the victory of the Lord.

The Immaculate Conception is the Patroness of the United States, but the title is also a frequently misunderstood Marian dogma and reality. Catholics, even American Catholics claiming her as their patroness, often confuse the Immaculate Conception with the Incarnation. The Immaculate Conception isn’t about Jesus being preserved from original sin when he was conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, but rather Mary being conceived in the womb of St. Anne without the stain of original sin.

This is a beautiful dogma, which speaks of the “greatness of the Lord” (Luke 1:46), providing a fitting vessel for the later Incarnation of the Word Made Flesh and showing that sin, even original sin doesn’t have the last word. The Catechism speaks of this reality in relation to the Lord’s victory as well: “Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.” (CCC 411) When the Church in the United States is facing the gravity of sin in abuse scandals, it is fitting to call upon our nation’s patroness that “Christ’s victory over sin” might be known in our time as well.

While one might not immediately connect the Immaculate Conception with healing, there is also a strong connection between this title of Our Lady and Lourdes. At Lourdes, Mary appeared to St. Bernadette and identified herself stating: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” When pilgrims go to Lourdes to seek Our Lady’s intercession for healing, they are invoking the one who identified herself with this privilege given her by the Lord, being preserved from all sin. As the Church in the United States faces a need for purification and healing, may she call upon the Immaculate Conception: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

This article originally appeared Dec. 8, 2018, at the Register.