ROME, DEC. 8, 2011 (Zenit.org)- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today in honor of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
The great feast of Mary Immaculate invites us every year to gather here, in one of Rome’s most beautiful piazzas, to offer homage to her, to the Mother of Christ and our Mother. With affection I greet all of you who are present here and those who are joining us via radio and television. And I thank you for your choral participation in my act of prayer.
At the top of the column that we crown Mary is represented by a statue that in part recalls the passage from the Book of Revelation that was just proclaimed: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet and, upon her head, a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). What is the meaning of this image? It represents both Our Lady and the Church.
First of all the “woman” of the Book of Revelation is Mary herself. She appears “clothed in the sun,” that is, clothed in God: the Virgin Mary is in fact surrounded by the light of God and lives in God. This symbol of the luminous garments expresses a condition that regards the whole of Mary’s being: she is the one who is “full of grace,” filled with the love of God. And “God is light” as St. John says (1 John 1:5). This is why she who is “full of grace,” the “Immaculate” reflects with her whole person the light of the “sun” that is God.
This woman has the moon beneath her feet, the symbol of death and mortality. Mary, in fact, is wholly associated with the victory of Jesus Christ, her Son, over sin and death; she is free from every shadow of death and is completely filled with life. As death no longer has any power over the risen Jesus (cf. Romans 6:9), thus, by a grace and a singular privilege of almighty God, Mary has left death behind, she has overcome it. And this is manifested in the two great mysteries of her life: at the beginning, being conceived without original sin, which is the mystery that we celebrate today; and, at the end, being assumed in soul and body into heaven, into God’s glory. But also her whole life on earth was a victory over death, because it was spent entirely in the service of God, in the complete offering of herself to God and neighbor. Because of this Mary is in herself a him to life: she is the creature in whom the word of Christ is already realized: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it in abundance” (John 10:10).
In the vision of the Book of Revelation there is another detail: upon the head of the woman clothed in the sun there is “a crown of twelve stars.” This sign represents the 12 tribes of Israel and means that the Virgin Mary is at the center of the People of God, of the whole communion of saints. And thus this image of the crown of twelve stars introduces us to the second great interpretation of the celestial sign of the “woman clothed in the sun”: besides representing our Lady, this sign personifies the Church, the Christian community of all times. She is pregnant, in the sense that she carries Christ in her womb and must bear him for the world: this is the suffering of the pilgrim Church on earth, who in the midst of God’s consolations and the world’s persecution must bring Jesus to men.
It is precisely for this, because she brings Jesus, that the Church meets the opposition of a ferocious adversary, represented in the Book of Revelation by the “great red dragon” (Revelation 12:3). This dragon sought in vain to devour Jesus – the “male child destined to govern all the nations” (12:5). The dragon tries in vain because Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has ascended to God and he has taken his seat upon his throne. This is why the dragon, defeated once and for all in heaven, turns his attacks toward to the woman – the Church – in the wilderness of the world. But in every age the Church is sustained by the light and by the power of God, which nourishes her in the wilderness with the bread of his Word and the Holy Eucharist. And so in every tribulation, through all of the trials that she meets in the course time and in different parts of the world, the Church suffers persecution but is always victorious in the end. And precisely in this way the Christian community is the presence, the guarantee of God’s love against every ideology of hatred and egoism.
The only threat the Church can and must fear is the sin of her members. While, in fact, Mary is the Immaculate, free from every stain of sin, the Church is holy, but at the same time she is stained by our sins. This is why the People of God, in pilgrimage through time, turns to its heavenly Mother and implores her help; it asks this so that she might accompany us on the journey of faith, that she might encourage the undertaking of a Christian life and support our hope. We need her above all in this very difficult moment for Italy, for Europe, for various parts of the world. Mary helps us to see that there is a light beyond the dark clouds that seems to envelop reality. For this reason we too, especially on this occasion, do not cease ask for her help with filial confidence: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Ora pro nobis, intercede pro nobis ad Dominum Iesum Christum![Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]