December 8 in the Roman Catholic Liturgical Calendar is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is a holy day of obligation and traditionally, the day 8 to 9 year old children studying in Catholic schools have their First Holy Communion. But despite the importance and significance of this feast day, many Catholics remain confused about the meaning of the Immaculate Conception. A lot of people actually thought that this referred to Mary becoming pregnant while remaining a virgin! I remember in med school while getting the history of pregnant young girls who would insist that they were virgins and pretend to be clueless as to their being pregnant, we would label their pregnancies as that of an immaculate conception...which of course, was a total misconception. Having been educated in Catholic schools all my life and regularly attending mass, it's weird that I never really understood what the Immaculate Conception was. It was only in my late 20's when I began to seek a greater understanding on why I was a Catholic, that I finally realized the meaning behind the Immaculate Conception.
"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.
—Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854"
Simply put, this means that Mary possessed sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence and was free from the lack of grace caused by the original sin at the beginning of human history. Mary's salvation was won by her son Jesus Christ through his passion, death, and resurrection and was not due to her own merits. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was further validated by the 1858 apparitions in Lourdes, France of the Lady who called herself "I am the Immaculate Conception" to Bernadette Soubirous, a poor and uneducated girl.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a poignant reminder for us to be more protective of life, especially in today's society where contraception is more desirable that conception; and that we should strive to be immaculate by showing absolute respect for human life from the time of conception to natural death.