Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
The feast refers to a teaching of the Catholic Church that Mary was conceived without original sin, through the working of the redemption of the human race by Jesus.
The teaching does not deny the saving power of the death and resurrection of Christ but recognizes that God’s grace is not limited by time (or place).
Mary was conceived sinless – and, by being in the presence of God all her life – remained sinless. It was God’s doing, not hers.
On this day, we who are beset by sin – not only original sin, but our own sins – might remember God’s loving grace and ask for forgiveness so that we might share in the joy of the Lord and live in his gracious love.
This feast is special for Franciscans since they have been advocates of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, especially Blessed John Duns Scotus. Though many theologians (including Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventure) opposed it, we can find its roots even in St. Efrem the Syrian (306-373) who wrote in one of his hymns: “No blemish in you, my Lord, and no stain in Your Mother.”
Below is a photo of a large mural int he Vatican Museum of the proclamation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I have no idea who all these people are – though I can identify Franciscans, Carmelites, and Dominicans.