Conception of the BVM

In the Anglican Breviary the 8th of December is not named The Immaculate Conception of the BVM but by an older, simpler, title: the Conception of the BVM. This is not to discourage the users of the AB from piously considering that the BVM was indeed conceived without the stain of original sin. Though – thank God – not binding on the faithful of the Anglican Catholic Church, this feast in both Breviary and Missal use the collect provided for the feast after the Roman Catholic Church had defined this pious belief as a dogma. The Anglican edition of the Benedictine Office gives the following, beautiful, collect:

O MERCIFUL God, hear the supplication of thy servants: that we who are gathered together to honour the Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, may through her intercession be delievered by thee from the perils which beset us. Through … Amen.

An additional benefit of this older collect is perhaps that it clearly celebrates the conception of the BVM but without trying to define more definitively what is going on in this conception. This allows those dissatisfied with Pius IX’s dogmatic definition the room to continue to venerate, celebrate, and honour the conception of the BVM and it also allows those that are quite happy with Pius IX’s dogmatic definition to continue to do the same. The old collect suffices. There is no need to use the new collect.

The Anglican Breviary translates a crucial word a bit differently. A translation provided by a Roman Catholic source has:

O God, by foreseen merits of the death of Christ, You shielded Mary from all stain of sin and preserved the Virgin Mother immaculate at her conception so that she might be a fitting dwelling place for Your Son. Cleanse us from sin through her intercession so that we also may come to You untainted by sin. Through Our Lord . . .

~ Traditional Latin Mass Propers, The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Whereas the Anglican Breviary (and Missal) have:

O GOD, who in the foreknowledge of thy Son’s most precious death didst consecrate for him a dwelling place by the spotless Conception of the Blessed Virgin: mercifully grant that she who was preserved from all defilement; may evermore pray for us until we attain unto thee in purity of heart. Through the same … Amen.

~ Anglican Breviary, The Conception of the BVM, p. E21.

The difference is slight, but, I think, crucial. The Anglican Catholic tradition leaves the old title as it is, does not adopt readings from the papal Bull (either in the Office itself nor during its octave), adopts the new collect, but translates a “spotless” instead of “immaculate.” Thereby clearly favouring the papal dogma, but without enforcing this dogmatic interpretation as an absolute. The above mentioned differences create some room for a different interpretation not uncommon in Catholic circles before this pious belief was defined as a dogma. Of course the Anglican Breviary is perfectly in sync with the papal definition, it is not presented to Anglican Catholics as a dogma. The lessons during the octave explain very clearly how the doctrine is to be held and what it involves. But even these lessons fall short of proclaiming the papal interpretation of Mary’s “spotless” conception as a dogma.

It is hard to see why this pious belief should be a dogma. Though pious and well represented in the Patristic and liturgical tradition of the Western and the Eastern Church, to proclaim it necessary to the Christian Faith in the same way a belief that “consubstantial” is necessary (in trinitarian theology) seems, to me, excessive. The careful path taken by the Anglican Breviary seems prudent here. Continue to celebrate as before, adopt the papal definition as the most likely interpretation of this doctrine, but stopping short of accepting it as a dogma (thereby allowing other pious opinions).

The octave for this feast is a late introduction. It is perhaps preferable to remove the octave. This is because the octave occupies a significant portion of the Advent Season, which, given the importance of Advent, is perhaps inappropriate. On the other hand the readings throughout the octave are of such a significant nature it seems undesirable to lose them alltogether. The Proposed Tridentine Ordo drops the Octave entirely for very good reasons, and I am very much inclined to agree, but I have provided the octave for this year in the Ordo anyway. After all both Kalendars, simple and universal, in the Anglican Breviary insist on keeping the octave. I cannot simply ignore that. I do, however, think it is perfectly fine for users of the Anglican Breviary to not keep the octave of this feast because it does return the Advent Season to the fore. This octave is a tough one for me.

Further reading: 

~ Mary Prokathartheisa by Fr. Aidan Kimel (Eastern Orthodox) this post begins a series of posts and discussions with Fr. Christiaan Kappes (Roman Catholic) and a strong case is made for the Immaculate Conception of the BVM being a very ancient doctrine in Christianity. Fr. Kappes shows, convincingly, that this doctrine is present in some of the earliest Greek Fathers of the Church.

Fr. Gregory Wassen


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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One Response to Conception of the BVM

  1. Fr John Porter says:

    The comments on the new but Anglicanized version of the collect in AB and AM is a wonderful (& mai I say brilliant) gloss on how to stablish this feast in our own way but related closely to the Roman devotional inspiration behind it for those of us who find such a establishment helpful and spiritually strengthening. Thank you, Fr Wassen

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