In this historically Protestant-flooded City, the question is frequently raised on the need for the celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Much more now that the celebration has been declared a non-working national holiday.
The question is usually expressed in an innocent manner: If Mary, the mother of Jesus, had conceived Him on Dec. 8, and it takes nine months for a mother to give birth, then surely the baby Jesus couldn’t have been born on Dec. 25 which is celebrated as “Christmas Day”?
The observance of the feast of the Immaculate Conception began in the Roman Catholic Church on Dec. 8, 1854 when a Papal encyclical by Pope Pius IX, as covered in Effabilis Deus, or the “Ineffable God” was made known.
The Pope formally defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The title Ineffable God has the preservation of Mary from sin, including the original sin of Eve and Adam, as the emphasis of the celebration.
This preservation is a gift, given by the Omnipotent God. This extraordinary grace is given, as is all grace, through the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all.
In Mary’s case, grace was given in view of her being a dedicated mother who was to be witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In my Religion class under Bishop Erme Camba, it was made clear there is no reference in the Holy Scripture that tells us that Mary witnessed the Resurrection.
But we all have heard of stories, and have seen from pious plays on TV about the possible meeting of Mary and Jesus after the Resurrection.
The celebration has the grace of God upon Mary as the central point. Such grace was given to Mary from the first moment of her conception. This was stressed in the Second Vatican Council which had the discussion of Mary as “all holy and free from every stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.”
This is the essence of the Dec. 8 celebration, and it is not about the day when she conceived the Holy Child.
Paul VI pointed out it is the “sanctifying intervention of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Virgin…”
The question raised has actually led to more questions, as there is no mention of Mary’s lineage in the Bible.
People are asking who Mary’s parents were — who could be responsible for her virtuous nature? The only link was the mention of Elizabeth. We all know of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, the elderly character in the Christmas story.
Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were too old to have children. Now Elizabeth became pregnant, a miracle from God. Their child, named John, was the John the Baptist, the saint whose life was dedicated to prepare the people for Jesus.
In the long line of saints in the Roman Catholic Church, the intense devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary has been extended to Saints Ann and Joachim, her parents.
The knowledge towards them came from apocryphal writings known as the Protoevangelium of James the Lesser that was written by an unknown author.
We all know that beyond the books of the Bible, scholars have uncovered related documents and writings. According to old traditions, Mary was born in Jerusalem. Joachim is said to have been the owner of a home in the vicinity of the temple, more precisely near the Sheep Gate and its pool called in Hebrew, Bethesda.
On this Dec. 8 honoring of Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mother, the solemnity of the celebration is anchored on her conception without sin.
Even more questions have been asked as the feast day is on the liturgical season of Advent, which prepares for the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
But the Feast of Immaculate Conception points to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.
This is beyond what is covered by the Holy Bible, and it seems Protestant Christians will not stop questioning, as the truth for many of us has to be within the Biblical realm.
In the Spirit of Peace of the Season, we respect the tradition. And we honor our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church as their devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, stood strong through all the years of our faith as Christian believers.
One moment in real time: we were in Ajong, Sibulan one day for the blessing of the gigantic image of The Immaculate Conception in Our Lady Garden.
The owner, the late Josephine Bejar-Ng, invited her friends, mostly from her SUHS Class of 1962. The celebrant was the Rev. Fr. Enrique Balongag.
I was there to witness the long-awaited blessing of the garden.
Father Eking had actually sensed that majority of those around him that day were from the Protestant churches; Mrs. Ng herself was a Protestant.
I was probably the most familiar face to the officiating priest because he requested me to lead the responsive prayer for the Blessed Virgin Mother.
It was actually not my first time to do that as I had been liturgist in many other occasions here and there. As I began to lead in the long part for prayer, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” the people would respond smoothly.
With the very smart Father Eking, we successfully completed the celebration.
All lines in the Prayer for Mary were actually familiar to me as these are found in the Bible: in Luke 1 and in James 5.
Growing up in Cabadbaran City, the Roman Catholic sanctuary was actually my playground, and the priests were like my big brothers, as our house is sandwiched by the Roman Catholic and the Aglipay churches.
Added to the proximity was my being a former faculty member in Roman Catholic schools in Davao City; the litanies were planted in my system, and could be recorded in my subconscious during Rosary Mont in October. Perhaps this could be one reason why I feel I’m being more open-minded, just like Mrs. Ng.
Also, the framed picture of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was part of my childhood. I recall asking Mrs. Ng once: “What made you decide to choose Mary’s Immaculate Conception image as the central figure in your garden landscape?”
She said, “Oh Moe, I just found the Virgin Mary so beautiful when I became familiar with the Immaculate Conception while studying in Davao. I developed this closeness to Her as I would feel peace everytime I would look at her face.”
Our Lady in the garden of Mrs. Josephine Ng is the tallest image in our island, and to many believers, where she stands has become not just a destination but a huge reminder of the anchor of faith within and beyond the 8th of December.
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