The Immaculate Conception and the Age of Mary

immaculate-conceptionby Donal Anthony Foley –

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 commemorates and celebrates the Catholic Tradition that the Blessed Virgin Mary was completely preserved from the stain of original sin, and was, therefore, immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. Pope Pius IX proclaimed this as a dogma in 1854. The text of the dogmatic definition, Ineffabilis Deus, states that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

This belief in the Church is of great antiquity, but we can also see how it is a theme that was developed in some of the major Marian apparitions leading up to Fatima in 1917.

When Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531, the first apparition actually took place on Saturday, Dec. 9, 1531 as he was journeying to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which at that time was held on that date, not on December 8. The Blessed Virgin appeared at Tepeyac Hill as the woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon, one of the traditional iconographic representations of the Immaculate Conception. Hence, at Guadalupe, she was proclaiming in symbolic form the truth about her holy conception.

Three centuries later, in November 1830, Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Labouré at the Rue du Bac convent in Paris, giving her the design of the Immaculate Conception medal, which would become known as the “Miraculous Medal” because of its wonder-working properties. During the third apparition to St. Catherine, she saw the Blessed Virgin stretch out her arms, as an oval frame formed around her with golden lettering that read: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Mary then told her, “Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Graces will abound for persons who wear it with confidence.”

The vision then revolved and St. Catherine saw a large “M” surmounted by a bar and cross with two hearts Miraculous_medalbeneath it, one crowned with thorns, the other pierced with a sword, all encircled by twelve stars; this indicated the design for the reverse of the medal.

The apparitions to St. Catherine Labouré, the rapid spread of the Miraculous Medal, and the growth of Marian devotion in the first half of the 19th century, convinced Pope Pius IX that the time had come to dogmatically proclaim the Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception. In February 1849, he asked the Catholic bishops of the world for their views on this, which was already a solidly held belief within the Church. More than 90 percent of the 603 bishops who responded were in favor of the dogma, which the pope then declared on Dec. 8, 1854. This began a century of ever-increasing devotion to Mary within the Church, culminating in Pope Pius XII’s dogmatic declaration in 1950 of the Assumption of Mary into heaven.

Just four years after the proclamation by Pius IX, Our Lady began to appear to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, France, from Feb. 11, 1858. On March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, after Bernadette had asked her several times to reveal her name, the Blessed Virgin extended her arms to assume the position shown on the Miraculous Medal before rejoining them at the breast. She looked up to heaven and said in the local patois, “Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou,” or, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Thus at Lourdes she revealed her inner essence, as it were, that she was immaculately conceived.

These various apparitions of Our Lady prepare the foundation for what she said and did at Fatima in 1917, when she appeared to the little shepherds and placed such a focus on her Immaculate Heart – which was ultimately immaculate because of her Immaculate Conception. Our Lady told them that to save souls from hell, God wished to establish in the world devotion to her Immaculate Heart.

She later gave details of this devotion to Sister Lucia, specifically the request for reparation to her Immaculte Heart in the First Saturday devotion.  It is significant that Our Lord revealed to Sister Lucia that one of the five blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary concerned those who deny Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.statue-tours

We know Our Lady’s Heart will triumph in the end, because she told us. As such, we should rejoice on this solemnity, realizing that all the blessings that the Church and the world have received at Fatima, and more generally in the Church, have ultimately come from Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.


Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, including Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World, and maintains a related web site at He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people, Secret of Glaston Tor and The Dark Tower, which can be found in our Gift Shop.



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