It was the archangel Gabriel that addressed the Blessed Virgin Mary as “full of grace” or, as the exegetes would have it, “highly favored” (Luke 1,28). Whatever the exact translation of the Greek text, the substance is that which lies in the faith of the Catholic Church: Mary, in the light of the task that God called her for, that of being the mother of his only-begotten son made man, was conceived without any stain of original sin and entirely holy.
Today it is the solemn feast of the extraordinary holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, – in the infallible words pronounced in 1854 by Pius IX in St Peter’s basilica – “from the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved from all stain of original sin.” Since then, the feast of the Immaculate Conception has been held throughout the Catholic Church with special solemnity.
It is one of the few dogmas of the Catholic Church that was pushed to the foreground of the faith by popular piety and whose liturgical celebration preceded by long centuries their theological formulation. Even such champions of the Blessed Virgin as Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) could not see the theological justification of this “future” dogma. Thirteenth century Franciscan theologians William of Ware and John Duns Scotus could, and they helped to develop the theology that led to its definition.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception is kept at St George’s basilica with due solemnity. The Collegiate Chapter celebrates First Vespers on its vigil, and Solemn Concelebrated Mass and Second Vespers on the day. Mass, including homily, is celebrated on the hour, as on Sunday and days of obligation. An icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been displayed on the main altar.
The Victoria celebrations of L-Immakulata organised by the Franciscan Conventuals and spread over the five days between 4th and 8th December, are being broadcast live by the parish community radio Leħen il-Belt Victoria.
Today falls also the 47th anniversary of the decree issued by Bishop Nikol Cauchi whereby he provided for the establishment of the Collegiate Chapter of St George’s basilica.