Today is December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Today is the day that Catholics believe our Blessed Mother Mary was conceived without sin by St. Joachim and St. Ann. Mary's conception without sin means that she was born free of the original sin that remains with us until we are baptized. Therefore, Mary lived her entire life free from sin.
The Immaculate Conception is a major Catholic belief (dogma) and was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, is the patron saint of the United States of America. The largest Catholic Church in the United States, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, is located in Washington, D.C. and was built in her honor. The altar in the crypt church of the basilica was purchased by all of the women named Mary in the United states during the 1930s. Each woman contributed $1.00 and her name was then written on a piece of paper that was enclosed in the altar.
When I lived in Washington, D.C., I was a tour guide at the Basilica-- every American Catholic should make a pilgrimage there at least once in his or her lifetime because it is the focal point of our national Catholic heritage.
Today is usually a holy day of obligation throughout the world, meaning that Catholics should attend Mass in celebration. However, since it coincides with a Sunday and we have our weekly obligation to attend Mass, the obligation has been lifted for this year.
Even though we are not obliged to attend Mass today-- we should at least stop for a moment and say a "Hail Mary" in honor of our Blessed Mother.
Hail Mary! Full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy woumb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.