Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a public holiday in Italy, although you wouldn’t know it. Not many people here are taking a day off from the worship of Mammon in the Festival of the Runup to Christmas to remember something else.
AJ and B were both christened amid the frescos in the beautiful Romanesque church of St Gottardo here in Carmine Superiore, and in return for that great privilege I believe I promised to ensure that they learned something about Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. So I’ve been doing a bit of digging for information about those feast days we in the Church of England don’t celebrate and the Catholic dogma I never heard anything about when I was a church-goin’ proto-adolescent with a crush on the vicar.
What I discovered was a shocker (to Anglican me, at least).
No, a trilogy of shockers.
Shock No. 1 : the Immaculate Conception doesn’t refer to the conception of Jesus or relate to the Virgin Birth in the way I (and some parts of the British media, it seems) thought it did. If you think about it, it stands to reason. It’s just over a fortnight from Immaculate Conception to Christmas…which would make Mary's pregnancy the shortest in history (just think, no sooner have you done the pregnancy test than you’re in the birthing pool swearing at your husband).
The conception of Jesus is, of course, celebrated at Annunciation (25 March), when that slick old Gabriel, God’s Mercury, flashed Mary his archangelic fleur de lys. Let’s do the calculation that even the most challenged Conservative MP can do..oh yes, that’s exactly nine months before Christmas (der…).
Shock No. 2 : The conception in question is termed Immaculate not because St Anne was particularly tidy around the house, or, indeed, because she and husband St Joachim were virgins when they conceived Mary (that’s too far fetched even for me).
It was Immaculate because Mary is said to have been, from the very moment of her conception, free of Original Sin. How can that be when we’re all said to be tainted by the goings on in the Garden? Well, apparently God knew that Mary was going to agree to become the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ death on the Cross redeemed her sins even before she was born, a kind of back-dated redemption applied on a one-time only basis.
(Imagine for a moment being able to do that for your kids. At the moment of conception you could put their names down, not for the local private school, but for everlasting grace and a glorious assumption when the time comes. I wonder which catchment area you’d need to live in…)
Shock No. 3 : The Immaculate Conception is not only a Catholic dogma, an idea, it is also, in some unfathomable way, a personage. As a personage, the Immaculate Conception is the Patron(ess?) of no less a country than the United States of America.
But do the Americans close their shops, shopping malls, markets and tv shopping channels on December 8th in order to spend their day celebrating their patronal festival? Dear readers in the US, I await your answer.
In the meantime, enjoy your shopping this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, but don’t forget, without Mary the Immaculate there ain't no Christmas.
Image : Saint Anne conceiving the Virgin Mary, Jean Bellegambe, Douai, Musée de la Chartreuse, found on the Women for Faith and Family website www.wf-f.org
Copyright © Louise Bostock 2007, 2008. All rights reserved. Please ask first.