This Thursday, 8th December, is the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary Immaculate is the Patron of our Diocese and so tomorrow is definitely a day on which to attend Mass to pray for us all. This feast was celebrated in the East from the eight century and one century later was kept in many places in the West. Pope Pius IX instituted this celebration for the universal Church when he proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December 1854. In that definition he expressed its precise meaning, affirming the constant faith of the Church: that Our Lady was conceived free from the stain of the original sin from the moment of her conception. It was a privilege unique to Mary, and a fitting one, for she would one day carry in her womb the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. St. John Henry Newman wrote that “there is no difference in kind between her and us, though an inconceivable difference of degree. She and we are both simply saved by the grace of Christ.” The Immaculate Conception marks the beginning of human redemption. Mary is the first redeemed human being, the first of a new creation in Christ. Here is the Collect of the Mass: O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son, grant, we pray, that, as you preserved her from every stain by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw, so, through her intercession, we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.