Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
“Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.” These are the words of the Archangel Gabriel addressing the woman selected by God to bear His Son. Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is a Holy Day of Obligation. The title of Immaculate Conception reflects the dogma that Mary was sinless from the first moment of her existence. The teaching and title of the Immaculate Conception are often confused with Jesus’s conception in the womb of Mary. However, it is the dogma proclaiming that Mary was immaculately conceived.
In the tradition of the Church, the faithful always held Mary in a special place of honor. Embedded in the devotional life of the faithful, we celebrate Mary’s motherhood as the Mother of God, her Perpetual Virginity, her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into heaven.
It was in 1846 when the bishops of the United States declared Mary Immaculate to be the patroness of our country. This declaration was likely in anticipation of Ineffabilis Deus, which would be written by Pius IX on December 8, 1854. Ineffabilis Deus proclaims Mary to be immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without contracting the stain of Original Sin.
In 2004, I was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago. I was charged by Francis Cardinal George, who was a member of the religious order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, with the promotion and celebration of the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It would offer us an opportunity to teach and to pray. There were six vicariates in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and many of these vicariates had more Catholics than most dioceses in the United States. I decided that I would celebrate a Marian devotion (I chose the rosary) and benediction at each of the various regions. The final celebration would be an evening Mass held at Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago on December 8, celebrated by the Cardinal.
All of the regional celebrations were well-attended, and a spirit of devotional love for Mary was on display. However, no one was certain what numbers would emerge for the Mass on December 8. The Cathedral held 2,000 people, so if 1,000 people were to attend, half of the Church would be empty. Since I oversaw the celebration, any failure would fall on my shoulders. However, I trusted in Mary; after all, this was her celebration.
The evening of the celebration produced people from all across the archdiocese. Especially present were the elderly and those of special needs. The Cathedral was packed. What was obvious was the special relationship these individuals had with Mary. She accompanied them in their lives of struggle, and she was present to them in their suffering. These individuals would die for Mary and her Church. I could not help but envision these people as the ones who would stand in defiance to anyone challenging their right to worship. There was a strength in the faith that could not be denied. Those who the world views as weak would be the force that challenged the mighty in the name of the Lord and of His Church.
On this Holy Day of Obligation, let us pray to Our Mother Mary under her title as the Immaculate Conception. Let us pray, entrusting the well-being of our country to our patroness, Mary Immaculate, asking her to assist us in living lives responsible to the teachings of her Son to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the December 8, 2020, "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.