Ann Marie Part is my guest today. She is a connection I’ve made on Twitter and I was so thrilled that she wanted to be involved in this Christmas blog fest. This post is a bit of a church and state history lesson and I think you’ll enjoy Ann Marie’s own connections with the date and her explanation of its significance for a number of reasons.
Over to her…
December 8th a significant date in the History of Church and State by Ann Marie Part
The 8th of December holds particular significance in the Irish psyche as a Holy Day of Obligation when schools close and Catholics are obliged to attend Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. For generations it was the day that officially heralded the arrival of the Christmas Season when country cousins came in their droves to Dublin and the capital was abuzz with excitement, but as well as being a precursor to Christmas the Feast of the Immaculate Conception itself is an important date in the Catholic Calendar while the 8th of December also marks a number of historical anniversaries, not least of which is this author’s birthday.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary without sin by her mother St. Anne, hence my name Ann Marie and every day I thank God that I didn’t end up as Immaculata (which I could never have lived up to) or Cepta (which would have undoubtedly left me with the nickname ‘Septic’). Debate about Mary’s conception without sin goes back centuries within the early Church but it was not until 1854 that it became official Catholic Dogma, when Pope Pius IX made the infallible declaration that being conceived without original sin meant that Mary was from the start effectively a pure vessel for her later conception of Jesus.
Ironically there is a general misconception about the Immaculate Conception with many mistakenly believing that December 8th refers to Mary’s conception of Jesus, which would of course be the shortest pregnancy in history if He was to be born two weeks later on Christmas Day. That particular event is celebrated by Catholics as the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25th exactly nine months before Christmas, though this confusion I am happy to report has won me a lot of bets over the years.
Those familiar with the story of Lourdes will know that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception also has a particular meaning as it was only when a young country girl told Church investigators in 1858 that the lady in her visions called herself ‘The Immaculate Conception’ that her story began to gain credence and it was on December 8th 1933 that the same young girl Bernadette Soubirous became St. Bernadette following her canonization by Pope Pius XI.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated worldwide and indeed December 8th is actually a Public Holiday in Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guam, Italy, Liechtenstein, Macau, Malta, Monaco, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, San Marino, Seychelles, Spain, Vatican City, Venezuela, and parts of Switzerland.
Masses, novenas, parades, processions, bonfires and fireworks mark the day and in Rome it is celebrated with a ceremony at the Spanish Steps presided over by the Pope; while in Panama it is a National Holiday and also Mother’s Day.
The Feast also has a double resonance for the predominately Catholic island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. December 8th 1941 marks the date that America found itself involved in World War II but at the same time as the US Navy Fleet was under attack in Pearl Harbour Japanese Imperial Forces also attacked and occupied Guam while the islanders were preparing for the annual procession in honour of their Patron Saint “Santa Marian Kamalen”. Islanders believe that it was their cultural identity and tenacity coupled with deep faith and devotion to Mary that sustained them through the horror and brutality of that period. In 2002 a law in Guam attempted to eliminate this holiday for locals but it did not succeed due to public pressure. Typhoon Pongsona struck the island on December 8th that year though the revered bejewelled wood and ivory statue of Santa Marian Kamalen survived as it had through WWII, earthquakes, fires and three robbery attempts since it was found washed up on the shore of the Island over three centuries before.
Closer to home December 8th also marks the anniversary of an important event in Irish history that went on to have far reaching and divisive effects on Irish society for generations and that was the public repudiation of the Anglo- Irish Treaty by Eamon De Valera in 1921. The Treaty had been signed by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffiths with the British Government on December 6th but was rejected by De Valera upon their return particularly because of the Oath of Fidelity to the British Crown. When it was endorsed by the electorate in June 1922 inevitably Civil War followed. Families, friends and communities were bitterly divided by the violence that ensued and the rest as they say is history, though ironically another person who died as a result of violence on December 8th was John Lennon who was assassinated in New York on the day of my 12th birthday in 1980 and as we all know he had dared to ‘Imagine’ a very different world though even in a different world I would still want to be born on December 8th because everyone remembers your birthday!
You can follow Ann Marie Part on Twitter @partannmarie