Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The solemn feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of the “most beautiful and popular” feasts dedicated to Mary, was at the heart of today’s reflection by Benedict XVI for the midday Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square. Speaking from the window of his study, the pontiff first and foremost recalled the meaning of today’s feast, linked to the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pius IX in 1854.
The pope said: “Not only did Mary not commit any sin, she was also protected from the common legacy of mankind that is original sin. And this because of the mission for which she was always destined by God: to be the Mother of the Redeemer. All this is contained in the truth of faith of the ‘Immaculate Conception’. The biblical foundation of this dogma is found in the words that the Angel spoke to the maiden of Nazareth: ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ (Lk 1:28). ‘Full of grace’ – in the original Greek kecharitoméne – is the most beautiful name of Mary, the one that God Himself gave her, to indicate that she has always been and will always be the beloved, elected, the one chosen to welcome the most precious gift, Jesus, ‘love incarnate of God’ (Enc. Deus Caritas East, 12).”
The privilege of Mary, of being protected from evil, has always prompted discussion among theologians and made the secularized world smile. Benedict XVI asked: “Why did God choose Mary of Nazareth of all women?” The answer of the pope goes back to the Bible, but also to poetry, citing Dante Alighieri who in his “Paradise” dedicated to the Virgin one of the most beautiful hymns of world literature: “The answer is hidden in the unfathomable mystery of divine will. However there is the reason highlighted by the Gospel: her humility. Dante Alighieri put it well in the last canto of Paradise: ‘Thou Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son/ Humble and high beyond all other creature/The limit fixed of eternal counsel’ (Par. XXXIII, 1-3). The Virgin herself, in the ‘Magnificat’, her canticle of praise, says: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord... for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.’ (Lk 1:46,48). Yes, God was attracted by the humility of Mary, who found favour in his eyes (cfr Lk 1:30). And thus she became the Mother of God, image and model of the Church, elected from among all peoples to receive the blessing of the Lord and to spread it across the entire human family. This ‘blessing’ is none other than Jesus Christ himself. He is the Source of grace, with which Mary was filled right from the first moment of her existence. She welcomed Jesus with faith and with love she gave him to the world. This is also our vocation and our mission, the vocation and mission of the Church: welcoming Christ in our life and giving him to the world, ‘that the world might be saved through him’ (Jn 3:17).”
The pope recalled that Mary is a model for all Christians who in Advent await Christ with the same humility and dedication as the Mother of God did: “Dear brothers and sisters, today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception illuminates the period of Advent like a lighthouse, a time of vigilant and faithful anticipation of the Saviour. As we prepare to greet God who is coming, we look to Mary who ‘shines as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth’ (Lumen gentium, 68). With this knowledge, I invite you to join me when, this afternoon, I will renew the traditional act of homage in Piazza di Spagna [Spanish steps] to this sweet Mother for grace and of grace.”
At the end of the Angelus prayer, the pope recalled that on the day of the Immaculate Conception, those belonging to the Italian Catholic Action renew their membership. He said: “I give a cordial greeting to the National Presidency and educators of the Youth Catholic Action, gathered in Rome for their annual assembly, and I extend this greeting to all diocesan and parish associations across Italy. I encourage the Catholic Action to increasingly develop its formation commitment, so that its members may grow in holiness in life and ecclesial communion and be credible witnesses of the risen Jesus, hope of humanity. May the Immaculate Virgin bless the Catholic Action and support it in its generous intent to serve the Church and its evangelizing mission.”