December 8 is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It was not ever thus. In the fifth century, a celebration of the “Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God,” was celebrated on December 9. The Eastern Orthodox today celebrate “The Conception by St. Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos (God-bearer)” on December 9. And in the calendar of the Spanish Empire operative in 1531, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated on December 9.
On December 9, 1531, a lady who called herself “the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God” made her first appearance to Juan Diego on Tepeyac hill in Mexico. This Immaculate Conception day revelation of the Mother of the True God occurred 34 years before the first European settlement in what was to become the United States (Spanish in St. Augustine, FL), 76 years before the first successful English settlement at Jamestown and 245 years before the founding of our country.
Oddly enough, the Virgin who appeared to Juan Diego on the Spanish Feast of the Immaculate Conception, was quite popular among U.S Catholics in the 19th century – though not in her appearance as Our Lady of Guadalupe, but rather, simply as the Immaculate Conception.
I have worked for two dioceses with cathedrals named for the Immaculate Conception – Here in Kansas City and in San Francisco, where Old St. Mary’s, the first cathedral in California, was the first church in the world to be dedicated to the Immaculate Conception following the formal definition of the doctrine in 1854.
Just the first page of google results on the name shows Immaculate Conception Cathedrals in Denver, Albany, Springfield, Portland, Tyler, Syracuse and Memphis. The bishops of the United States chose the Immaculate Conception as Patroness of the United States eight years before the formal definition of the doctrine.
In an interesting column by Archbishop Richard Cushing of Boston, probably dating from the early 1950s before he was Cardinal, he notes (my emphases):
The patronage of the Blessed Virgin over American territory did not begin, however, with the reorganization of the Church which was made possible under the changed political conditions of the post-Revolution era. It did not begin in the new republic at all.
The first official proclamation of it was made in 1643 by the King of Spain, and to this we shall refer again, but her patronage was implicit in the bull of Alexander VI in which, in 1493, he ordered the Spanish Crown in virtue of holy obedience to send to the newly-discovered lands learned, God-fearing, experienced and skilled missionaries to instruct the inhabitants in the Catholic faith and imbue them with good morals. The Holy See endorsed Spain’s claim to the whole western hemisphere with the exception of Brazil under these conditions. Our territory remained within this claim until other European nations successfully challenged it, and our history was Spanish colonial history for over a century in the East, for much longer in the West.
He then goes on to speak of Our Lady of Guadalupe as “the first of the native Madonnas” and says that “Tepeyac has been referred to as the Lourdes of America,” again with obvious reference to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s identification with the Immaculate Conception.
The claim of the Virgin of Guadalupe over the entire continent was confirmed by Pope Pius XII in 1945 when he named her “Empress of the Americas” and again in 1999 when Pope John Paul II declared her Patroness of All the Americas.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the traditional depiction of the Immaculate Conception make look different. But She is the same Lady. And she is the mother of all Catholics in all the Americas.
To see where I pinched some of this stuff see this article by then-Archbishop Raymond Burke.