As early as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Mary was regarded as the “new Eve”. In the East, where Andrew of Crete and John of Damascus had extolled the perfect sinlessness of Mary as implicit in the title Theotokos, the commemoration of her conception was known from the 7th century. The observance of the feast spread to the West and was attested for England in the first half of the 11th century.
Over the course of the late Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, culminating in the Council of Trent and the dogmatic definition by Pope Piux the Ninth in the bull Ineffabilis Deus in 1854, the Western Church (and then the Roman Catholic Church) developed a doctrine of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that “from the first moment of her conception” she was “by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of mankind, kept free from all stain of original sin” (Ineffabilis Deus). Eastern Orthodox theologians have never endorsed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, principally because they do not share the Western Augustinian understanding of original sin.
The Anglican Church of Canada, in the calendars of both the Book of Common Prayer (1962) and the Book of Alternative Services, commemorates the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on this day, as also the Church of England. The Orthodox Churches observe the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 9, and some Orthodox Churches keep December 8 as the eve of the feast.
- Adapted from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and other sources.
Almighty and everlasting God, who stooped to raise fallen humanity through the child-bearing of blessed Mary: grant that we, who have seen your glory revealed in our human nature and your love made perfect in our weakness, may daily be renewed in your image and conformed to the pattern of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
Domine, non est
O LORD, I am not proud;*
I have no haughty looks.
I do not occupy myself with great matters,*
or with things that are too hard for me.
But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother’s breast;*
my soul is quieted within me.
O Israel, wait upon the LORD,*
from this time forth for evermore.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’
The collect is taken from Common Worship (© The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England). The texts of the Scripture lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible. The text of the Psalm is from the Book of Common Prayer (1979) of The Episcopal Church. The particular propers are adapted from a Catholic daily missal of 1949. The psalm is one of the traditional “Lady Psalms”.