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. […]
A “Woman clothed with the sun”
Mary is portrayed, atop 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” (12:1).
What is the meaning of this image? It represents at the same time Our Lady and the Church. First, 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 also says (1 Jn 1:5). She, therefore, who is full of grace, the Immaculate, reflects in her whole person the light of the “sun” which is God.
Our Lady triumphs over sin and death
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 entirely filled with life. Just as death no longer has power over the risen Jesus (cf. Rm 6:9), so also, through a grace and a rare privilege of Almighty God, Mary has left it behind her and surpassed 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 in God’s service, in the unreserved sacrifice of herself to Him and to her neighbor.
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).
Mary in the center of the Church
In the vision of the Book of Revelation, there is a further detail: upon the head of the Woman clothed with the sun is “a crown of twelve stars”.
This sign symbolizes the 12 tribes of Israel and means that the Virgin Mary is at the center of the People of God, of the entire communion of Saints. And thus this image of the crown of 12 stars leads us to 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 carries 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 mankind.
The “red dragon” defeated by the Church
It is for this very reason, because She is carrying Jesus, that the Church is faced with the opposition of a fierce adversary, represented in the apocalyptic vision by “a great red dragon” (Rv 12:3).
This dragon sought in vain to devour Jesus – the “male Child, destined to rule all the nations” (Rv 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 comes out victorious. And in this very way the Christian community is her presence, the guarantee of God’s love against all ideologies of hatred and selfishness.
Hope for the Church blemished by our sins
The one threat which the Church can and must fear 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, turn to their heavenly Mother and ask her help; that She accompany them on their 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 which seems to cover reality. For this reason, let us too, especially on this Feast, not cease to ask her 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! ◊
Excerpts from: BENEDICT XVI.
Address at the Act of Veneration of the
Immaculate Virgin Piazza di Spagna, 8/12/2011