Marking the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Benedict XVI made his way to Piazza di Spagna in Rome for the traditional act of veneration of the image of the Virgin Mary on the column situated in front of the Embassy of Spain to the Vatican.
During his journey, the Pope on December 8 stopped briefly at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, where he greeted the members of the Via Condotti Storeowners Association. Once in the square, the Pope began by offering a prayer, followed by a reading from the Revelation of St. John, a homily and the offering of a floral tribute to the image of the Virgin.
In his homily, the Pope explained that the text from the Revelation, which speaks of a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet and a garland of twelve stars upon her head, refers both to the Virgin and to the Church. In part, "the woman of the Apocalypse is Mary ... the symbol of the luminous robe clearly expressed a condition referring to Mary in all her being: She is 'full of grace', filled with the love of God".
The moon beneath her feet symbolises death: "Mary is fully linked to the victory of Jesus Christ, her Son, over sin and death... just as death has no power over Christ resurrected, so by the grace and singular privilege of omnipotent God, Mary overcomes death. This is made manifest in the two great mysteries of her existence: at the beginning, the conception without original sin, the mystery we celebrate today; and at the end, her assumption in body and soul in Heaven".
The garland of twelve stars "represents the twelve tribes of Israel, and indicates that Mary is at the centre among the people of God, in full communion with the saints. And thus, this image ... brings us to the second grand interpretation of the celestial sign of the "woman clothed with the sun": as well as representing the Virgin, this sign indicates the Church. She is with child, in the sense that she carries Christ in her womb and will give birth to him on earth ... and it is precisely for this reason, that She carries Christ, that the Church meets the opposition of a fierce adversary, represented by a dragon which seeks to destroy the son, but in vain as Jesus, through death and resurrection, ascends to God. Therefore the dragon, defeated once and for all in heaven, turns to attack the woman - the Church - in the desert of earth. But in every age the light and strength of God have supported the Church ... and thus, through all the trials She encounters over time and all over the world, the Church suffers persecution but is always victorious".
The only evil that the Church must fear is that sin of Her members. While indeed Mary was Immaculate, free of any stain of sin, the Church is holy but at the same time marked by our sins. Therefore the People of God, as pilgrims throughout time, turn to their celestial Mother and seek Her help; they ask that She might accompany them on their path of faith, that She might encourage them in their commitment to Christian life and sustain their hopes. We need this support, especially in this difficult moment for Italy, for Europe, and for many parts of the world. Mary helps us to see that there is light beyond the mantle of fog that appears to obscure reality.