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Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2011

Papa Benedict XVI's Prayer to Mary
Piazza di Spagna, 8 December 2011 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Every year the important Feast of Mary Immaculate invites us to meet here, in one of Rome’s most beautiful squares, to pay homage to her, the Mother of Christ and our Mother. I greet with affection all of you present here, as well as all those who are joining us via radio and television. I thank you for your unanimous support in my act of prayer.

Mary is portrayed, on the top of the pillar around which we have gathered, by a statue which, in part, recalls the passage from the Book of Revelation that has just been proclaimed: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). What is the meaning of this image? It represents at the same time Our Lady and the Church.

First of all the “woman” of the Book of Revelation is Mary herself. She appears “clothed with the sun, that is, clothed with God: the Virgin Mary in fact is wholly surrounded by God’s light and lives in God. This symbol of her luminous garment clearly expresses a condition that concerns Mary’s whole being: she is “full of grace”, filled with God’s love. And “God is light”, St John says further (1 Jn 1:5). Here, therefore, the One who is “full of grace”, “the Immaculate One”, reflects in her whole person the light of the “sun” which is God.

This woman has under her feet the moon, a symbol of death and of mortality. Indeed Mary is fully associated with the victory of Jesus Christ, her Son, over sin and death; she is free from any shadow of death and totally filled with life. Just as death no longer has power over the risen Jesus (cf. Rom 6:9), so, through a grace and a rare privilege of Almighty God, Mary has left it behind her and gone beyond it. And this is manifest in the two great mysteries of her life: in the beginning, having been conceived without original sin, which is the mystery that we are celebrating today; and, at the end, being taken up body and soul into Heaven, into God’s glory. However, the whole of her earthly life was also a victory over death, because it was spent entirely at God’s service, in the unreserved sacrifice of herself to him and to her neighbour. For this reason Mary is in herself a hymn to life; she is the creature in whom Christ’s words have already come true: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

In the vision of the Book of Revelation there is a further detail: upon the head of the woman clothed with the sun there is “a crown of twelve stars”. This sign symbolizes the 12 tribes of Israel and means that the Virgin Mary is at the centre of the People of God, of the entire communion of saints. And thus this image of the crown of 12 stars ushers us into the second great interpretation of the heavenly portent of the “woman clothed with the sun”: as well as representing Our Lady, this sign personifies the Church, the Christian community of all time. She is with child, in the sense that she is carrying Christ in her womb and must give birth to him in the world. This is the travail of the pilgrim Church on earth which, amidst the consolations of God and the persecution of the world, must bring Jesus to men and women.

It is for this very reason, because she is carrying Jesus, that the Church comes up against the opposition of a ferocious adversary, represented in the apocalyptic vision by “a great red dragon” (Rev 12:3). This dragon sought in vain to devour Jesus — the “male child”, destined to rule all the nations” (12:5) — because Jesus, through his death and resurrection, ascended to God and is seated on his throne. Therefore the dragon, defeated once and for all in Heaven, directly attacks the woman — the Church — in the wilderness of the world. However in every epoch the Church is sustained by the light and strength of God who nourishes her in the desert with the bread of his Word and of the Holy Eucharist. And so it is that in every tribulation, in all the trials she meets over time and in the different parts of the world the Church suffers persecution but turns out to be victorious. And in this very way the Christian community is her presence, the guarantee of God’s love against all the ideologies of hatred and selfishness.

The one threat of which the Church can and must be afraid is the sin of her members. Whereas Mary is indeed Immaculate, free from any stain of sin, the Church is holy but at the same time she is blemished by our sins. This is why the People of God, on pilgrimage through time, addresses its heavenly Mother and asks for help; it asks her to accompany it on its journey of faith, to encourage the commitment to Christian living and to support its hope. We are in need of this, especially at this time which is so difficult for Italy, for Europe, and for various parts of the world.

May Mary help us to see that there is a light beyond the blanket of thick fog in which reality seems to be enveloped. For this reason, we too, especially on this Feast, do not cease to ask her for help with filial trust: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who turn to you”. Ora pro nobis, intercede pro nobis ad Dominum Iesum Christum!"

Pope Benedict XVI's words at the Angelus in St Peter's Square
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters, Today the Church solemnly celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary. As Bl. Pius IX declared in the Apostolic Letter Ineffabilis Deus of 1854, she “was preserved, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, free from all stain of original sin”. This truth of faith is contained in the words of greeting the Archangel Gabriel addressed to her: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Lk 1:28). The expression “full of grace” indicates that marvellous work of the love of God, who through his Only-Begotten Son incarnate who died and rose again, wanted to restore to us the life and the freedom, lost by original sin. Because of this, since the 2nd century both in the East and the West, the Church invokes and celebrates the Virgin who with her “yes” brought Heaven closer to earth, becoming “Genetrix of God and nurturer of our life”, as St Romanus the Melodus expressed it in an old song (Canticum XXV in Nativitatem B. Mariae Virginis, in J.B. Pitra, Analecta Sacra t. I, Paris 1876, 198). In the 7th century St Sophronius of Jerusalem praised the greatness of Mary, for in her the Holy Spirit came to dwell, and said: “You surpass all the gifts that God’s magnificence ever bestowed on any human person. More than anyone you are made rich by God dwelling in you” (Oratio II, 25 in SS. Deiparæ Annuntiationem: PG 87, 3, 3248 AB). And St Bede the Venerable explains: “Mary is blessed among women, for with the dignity of virginity she has enjoyed the grace to be parent to a son who is God” (Hom I, 3: CCL 122, 16).

We are also given the “fullness of grace” which we must make shine in our life, for, as St Paul writes: the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ... has blessed us ... with every spiritual blessing ... even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless .... to be his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:3-5). We receive this sonship through the Church on the day of Baptism. In this regard St Hildegarde of Bingen wrote: “The Church is, therefore, the virgin mother of all Christians. In the secret power of the Holy Spirit she conceives them and brings them to the light, offering them to God in such a way that they too might be called sons of God” (Scivias, visio III, 12: CCL Continuatio Mediævalis XLIII, 1978, 142). And, finally, among the many who have sung of the spiritual beauty of the Mother of God, St Bernard of Clairvaux stands out. He declares that the invocation “Hail, Mary full of grace” is “pleasing to God, to angels and to men. To men, thanks to her motherhood, to the angels, thanks to her virginity, to God, thanks to her humility” (Sermo XLVII, De Annuntiatione Dominica: SBO VI,1, Rome 1970, 266).

Dear friends, in anticipation of the customary homage we will pay to Mary Immaculate in Piazza di Spagna this afternoon, let us offer our fervent prayer to the one who intercedes before God, that she help us to celebrate with faith the Birth of the Lord so close at hand."

After the Angelus:

"Cari amici! Rivolgo un saluto speciale alla Pontificia Accademia dell’Immacolata, con un ricordo devoto e affettuoso per il compianto Cardinale Andrzej Maria Deskur, che l’ha presieduta per tanti anni. La Vergine vi assista sempre, cari amici, in ogni vostra attività.

Sono inoltre spiritualmente vicino ai soci dell’Azione Cattolica Italiana, che nella festa dell’Immacolata rinnovano l’adesione all’Associazione. L’Azione Cattolica è una scuola di santità e di evangelizzazione: auguro ogni bene per il suo impegno formativo e apostolico.

La prière de l’Angélus me donne la joie de saluer les francophones présents ici Place Saint-Pierre ou qui nous sont unis par la radio et la télévision. En cette solennité de l’Immaculée Conception de la Vierge Marie, portons notre regard vers la servante du Seigneur, resplendissante de beauté et de pureté. Prenons-la pour modèle. À son exemple demeurons attentifs à Dieu. Vigilants dans la prière, nous serons plus disponibles pour dire notre Oui quotidien à son amour. Avec Marie, soyons confiants et remplis de sérénité car le Seigneur vient pour sauver son peuple ! Avec ma Bénédiction Apostolique!

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors on this great feast-day when we honour the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her sinless perfection, Mary is a great sign of hope for the Church and for the world, a sign of the marvels that God’s grace can accomplish in us, his human creatures. In these days of Advent, in company with the holy and immaculate Mother of God, let us prepare to welcome her Son into our lives and into our hearts. May God bestow his blessings of joy and peace upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones at home.

Ein herzliches „Grüß Gott“ sage ich den Pilgern und Besuchern aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache. Am Hochfest der Unbefleckten Empfängnis schauen wir voller Freude auf Maria, in der sich Gott eine wunderbare Wohnung bereitet hat. Die heilige Jungfrau wurde ohne Erbsünde empfangen und hat dem Herrn stets ihre reine und ungeteilte Liebe geschenkt. Sie soll uns ein Vorbild sein und Fürsprecherin in unserer Berufung zur Heiligkeit, und sie helfe uns, Gott in unserem Herzen eine würdige Wohnung zu bereiten. Euch allen wünsche ich einen gesegneten Feiertag!

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española que participan en esta oración mariana. En particular, al grupo de la parroquia San Blas, de Tortosa, y al del Colegio Claret, de Madrid. Celebramos hoy el misterio de la Inmaculada Concepción de Santa María Virgen, la «Llena de gracia», como la llamó el arcángel Gabriel, la nueva Eva, esposa del nuevo Adán, la Madre de los redimidos, en la que Dios «preparó una digna morada para su Hijo». Confío a Ella las intenciones y los santos deseos que inspira en nosotros este tiempo de Adviento, así como las necesidades y angustias de aquellos que están privados de libertad, carecen de trabajo o pasan por momentos de dificultad o dolor. Muchas gracias.

Moją myśl i słowo pozdrowienia kieruję do wszystkich Polaków. „Bądź pozdrowiona, pełna łaski, Pan z Tobą” (Łk 1, 28). Oto znane nam słowa anielskiego pozdrowienia, skierowane do Maryi, Bożej Matki. Powtarzamy je chętnie w naszej codziennej modlitwie, przypominamy dzisiaj, rozważając tajemnicę Jej Niepokalanego Poczęcia. Niech Maryja pomoże nam unikać grzechów, być wiernymi woli Bożej, nieść innym miłość, radość i dobro. Wszystkim, którzy pragną naśladować świętość Jej życia z serca błogosławię.

Infine, saluto con affetto i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare la Cooperativa sociale “L’altro Sole”, di Genova e il gruppo della Parrocchia Santa Maria Assunta e San Michele Arcangelo in Trigoria, Roma, come pure l’Associazione “Città per la Fraternità”, di Rocca di Papa. A tutti auguro i migliori frutti spirituali in questa festa della Vergine Maria, della nostra Madre. Grazie. Buona festa a voi tutti!"

BXVI - St Peter's Square, Thursday, 8 December 2011 - © Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana