By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer
When I first glanced at the University of Dayton’s academic calendar before beginning my freshman year, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the university gives an entire day off of classes for the Immaculate Conception. I envisioned a certain reverence on campus for our great patron, Mary, and a day for celebration before the end of the semester.
To a certain extent, that vision holds true in the form of Christmas on Campus. Yet, I’m afraid that Mary’s Dec. 8 solemnity is greatly overshadowed by the sleeping in, studying and Christmas-themed evening. We are a Marianist university, after all. So what is the Immaculate Conception? Why is it so important? And why should we care?
Yet, I’m afraid that Mary’s Dec. 8 solemnity is greatly overshadowed by the sleeping in, studying and Christmas-themed evening.
“The Immaculate Conception is often a misunderstood teaching of the church, but it’s also a very important teaching,” said Brother Brandon Paluch, a Marianist who works in Campus Ministry. “Some people think it’s about when Jesus was conceived. But it’s actually about Mary’s conception and the belief that she was conceived without any stain of original sin.”
If you attend Mass each year on the solemnity, it’s likely you hear your priest reiterate the precise definition of the Immaculate Conception to avoid the misunderstanding. Yet, it’s something so important to remember, especially during this Advent season, because the preparation for Jesus’ coming into the world began long before the angel Gabriel visited Mary.
“The idea is that God wanted to prepare a sinless, fully-loving mother for His son, Jesus,” Paluch said, “so that in the home at Nazareth, [Mary] would teach him, nurture him, form him into who he would become.”
He explained how in Luke’s Gospel, which we heard on the Immaculate Conception, the evangelist writes out Gabriel’s greeting to Mary: “Hail, full of grace.”
“That’s actually a title—“full of grace”—it’s a Greek word, Kecharitomene,” Paluch said, “which is only ever used there, in reference to Mary. She is full of grace, that her heart had no inward curve, she lived without selfishness.”
While the moment of Mary’s sinless conception is the literal reason for celebration on her solemnity, the mystery points to a much deeper reality—something we can all connect with.
“In the Immaculate Conception, Mary shows us humanity’s origin, how we were all meant to be,” Paluch said. “If you think of human beings, pre-Adam and Eve, we were meant to be sinless, fully-loving, in a state of grace, in communion with God and with each other.”
But as soon as the story of humanity began, sin entered the world. As a result, our dignity as children of God’s image became clouded by our tendency to give into temptation.
“Mary’s assumption, when she was assumed body and soul into Heaven, points to humanity’s destiny,” Paluch said. “We believe that Mary is body and soul in heaven. That points to the sacredness of the human body and how that cannot be violated, and we see it so often violated in the world today.”
With this broader perspective, we see that the Immaculate Conception is in fact the beginning of a full circle, not just of Mary and her role in the church but for all of humanity and our journey to reaching a purified state. And for us, students here on Dayton’s Marianist campus, the Blessed Mother’s influence reaches us on an even more local level.
“Blessed Chaminade, the founder of the Marianist family, talked about the Immaculate Conception and promoted that title of Mary before the Church made that a dogma,” Paluch explained.
Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Con¬ception on Dec. 8, 1854, almost five years after Chaminade’s death.
“Hence, [our chapel] is called the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and why that day is so important for us here at UD,” Paluch said.
Practically speaking, as a holy day of obligation, the Immaculate Conception is ideal to step back and celebrate Christmas on Campus before we go our separate ways after exams, but it’s important to keep the day’s meaning in perspective.
A group of UD students celebrated a Mass of Marian Consecration on the Solemnity this year, after preparing for 33 days beforehand with a spiritual retreat reflecting on the various Church teachings on Mary as taught by the saints.
“The reason why we consecrate ourselves to Mary is because we want her to be our mother as she was Jesus’s,” said Alexander Mingus, a sophomore who was in the consecration group. “And what better person to be our spiritual mother than the one who raised our Lord.”
As Christmas approaches along with the end of the semester, this is a time to celebrate. But it’s also a time to pause and reflect on this great mystery in which Mary shows us God’s call for humanity.