Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is a day of intense spiritual joy, in which we contemplate the Virgin Mary, "in lowliness/ Surpassing, as in height, above them all,/ Term by the eternal counsel pre-ordained," as the supreme poet Dante sings ("Paradise," XXXIII, 3). In her shines the eternal goodness of the Creator who, in his plan of salvation, chose her to be mother of his Only-begotten Son, and, in anticipation of his death, preserved her from all stain of sin (cf. Collect Prayer). Thus, in the Mother of Christ and our Mother, the vocation of the human being has been perfectly realized.
All people, the Apostle Paul reminds us, are called to be immaculate saints in the presence of God in love (cf. Ephesians 1:4). When contemplating the Virgin, how is it possible not to reawaken in us, her children, the aspiration to beauty, to goodness, to purity of heart? Her heavenly innocence attracts us to God, helping us to overcome the temptation of a mediocre life, made up of compromises with evil, to direct us decisively to the authentic good, which is the source of joy.
On this day, my thought goes back to December 8, 1965, when the Servant of God Paul VI solemnly closed the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, the greatest ecclesial event of the 20th century, which Blessed John XXIII had begun three years earlier. Amid the exultation of numerous faithful in St. Peter's Square, Paul VI entrusted the application of the conciliar documents to the Virgin Mary, invoking her with the gentle title Mother of the Church. When presiding this morning at a solemn Eucharistic celebration in the Vatican basilica, I wished to thank God for the gift of the Second Vatican Council. Moreover, I wished to praise Mary Most Holy for having accompanied these 40 years of ecclesial life, rich in so many events.
In a special way, Mary has watched with maternal care over the pontificates of my venerated predecessors, each of whom guided Peter's bark on the route of authentic conciliar renewal, working incessantly for the faithful interpretation and execution of the Second Vatican Council.
Dear brothers and sisters, as the crowning of this day, dedicated entirely to the Holy Virgin, following an ancient tradition, during the afternoon I shall go to Piazza di Spagna, to the foot of the statue of the Immaculate Conception. I ask you to join me spiritually on this pilgrimage, which endeavors to be an act of filial devotion to Mary, to commend to her the beloved city of Rome, the Church and the whole of humanity.
[Translation by ZENIT]
Zenit also has the text of Pope Paul VI's address at the close of Vatican II, forty years ago yesterday.