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Feast Of Immaculate Conception Of The Most Blessed Virgin Mary: A Holy Day Of Obligation For Catholics (PHOTOS)

The Huffington Post    
First Posted: 12/08/11 09:28 AM ET Updated: 01/16/12 07:48 PM ET

Click through the slideshow to see famous paintings of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

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  • <em>La Purisima Inmaculada Concepcion</em> by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1678, now in Museo del Prado, Spain.

  • <em>Virgin Mary </em>by Diego Velazquez

  • <em>Immaculate Conception</em> by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1650

  • <em>Immaculate Conception</em> by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1660

  • <em>La Inmaculada de Soult</em> by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1678

  • <em>Inmaculada Concepción</em> by Juan Antonio de Frías y Escalante. Now at Museo de Bellas Artes de Córdoba.

  • <em>Immaculate Conception</em> by Piero di Cosimo, 1505

  • <em>Inmaculada Concepción</em> by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664).

  • "The Immaculate Conception" by Carlo Maratta (1689). Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

December 8 is the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrated in the Roman Catholic and related Christian churches. The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a belief of the Roman Catholic Church, expressing the conviction that the Virgin Mary was free from original sin and filled with sanctifying grace from the moment of her conception in her mother's womb.

People prepare themselves for this day by novenas (an act of devotion where a prayer is said for nine days) and nocturnal vigils. Special prayers and hymns are offered to the Virgin Mary. One of the most popular liturgical prayers said is Tota pulchra es. Inspired by words of praise from the book of Judith and Song of Solomon, the prayer glorifies the Virgin Mary's holiness and beauty:

You are all beautiful, Mary.
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
Your clothing is white as snow, and your face is like the sun.
You are all beautiful, Mary.
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you give honor to our people.
You are all beautiful, Mary.

The tradition of having a Feast Day for the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was widespread both in the Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic churches since the 7th century. However, it was only in 1854 that Pope Pius IX proclaimed that, "the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by the Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin" (Ineffabilis Deus). Since then, the Feast of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was observed on December 8 and is considered to be a Holy Day of Obligation (days where the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass).

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been famously depicted in paintings for centuries. Typically, a young woman, representing the spirit of Mary, is depicted in a heavenly realm bowing her head to God with the moon underneath her feet and a halo of 12 stars surrounding her head.

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