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The Immaculate Conception

Blessed John Paul II's Catechesis
General Audience, Wednesday, 29 May 1996 - in Italian & Spanish

"1. In the doctrinal reflection of the Eastern Church, the expression "full of grace", as we saw in the preceding catecheses, has been interpreted since the sixth century as a unique holiness which Mary enjoys throughout her existence. She thus initiates the new creation.

Along with Luke's account of the Annunciation, Tradition and the Magisterium have seen in the so-called Protoevangelium (Gn 3:15) a scriptural source for the truth of Mary's Immaculate Conception. On the basis of the ancient Latin version: "She will crush your head", this text inspired many depictions of the Immaculata crushing the serpent under her feet.

On an earlier occasion we recalled that this version does not agree with the Hebrew text, in which it is not the woman but her offspring, her descendant, who will bruise the serpent’s head. This text then does not attribute the victory over Satan to Mary but to her Son. Nevertheless, since the biblical concept establishes a profound solidarity between the parent and the offspring, the depiction of the Immaculata crushing the serpent, not by her own power but through the grace of her Son, is consistent with the original meaning of the passage.

2. The same biblical text also proclaims the enmity between the woman and her offspring on the one hand, and the serpent and his offspring on the other. This is a hostility expressly established by God, which has a unique importance, if we consider the problem of the Virgin's personal holiness. In order to be the irreconcilable enemy of the serpent and his offspring, Mary had to be free from all power of sin, and to be so from the first moment of her existence.

In this regard, the Encyclical Fulgens corona, published by Pope Pius XII in 1953 to commemorate the centenary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, reasons thus: "If at a given moment the Blessed Virgin Mary had been left without divine grace, because she was defiled at her conception by the hereditary stain of sin, between her and the serpent there would no longer have been—at least during this period of time, however brief—that eternal enmity spoken of in the earliest tradition up to the definition of the Immaculate Conception, but rather a certain enslavement" (AAS 45 [1953], 579).

The absolute hostility put between the woman and the devil thus demands in Mary the Immaculate Conception, that is, a total absence of sin, from the very beginning of her life. The Son of Mary won the definitive victory over Satan and enabled his Mother to receive its benefits in advance by preserving her from sin. As a result, the Son granted her the power to resist the devil, thus achieving in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception the most notable effect of his redeeming work.

3. By drawing our attention to Mary's special holiness and her complete removal from Satan's influence, the title "full of grace" and the Protoevangelium enable us to perceive, in the unique privilege the Lord granted to Mary, the beginning of a new order which is the result of friendship with God and which, as a consequence, entails a profound enmity between the serpent and men.

The 12th chapter of Revelation, which speaks of the "woman clothed with the sun" (12:1), is often cited too as biblical testimony on behalf of the Immaculate Conception. Current exegesis agrees in seeing in this woman the Community of God's People, giving birth in pain to the risen Messiah. Along with the collective interpretation, however, the text suggests an individual one in the statement: She brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" (12:5). With this reference to child-birth, it is acknowledged that the woman clothed with the sun is in a certain sense identified with Mary, the woman who gave birth to the messiah. The woman-community is actually described with the features of the woman-Mother of Jesus.

Characterized by her motherhood, the woman was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for her delivery" (12:2). This note refers to the Mother of Jesus at the Cross (cf. Jn 19:25), where she shares in anguish for the delivery of the community of disciples with a soul pierced by the sword (cf. Lk 2:35). Despite her sufferings, she is "clothed with the sun—that is, she reflects the divine splendour—and appears as a "great sign" of God's spousal relationship with his people.

These images, although not directly indicating the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, can be interpreted as an expression of the Father's loving care which surrounds Mary with the grace of Christ and the splendour of the Spirit.

Finally, the Apocalypse invites us more particularly to recognize the ecclesial dimension of Mary's personality: the woman clothed with the sun represents the Church's holiness, which is fully realized in the Holy Virgin by virtue of a singular grace.

4. These scriptural assertions, to which Tradition and the Magisterium refer in order to ground the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, would seem to contradict the biblical texts which affirm the universality of sin.

The Old Testament speaks of a sinful contamination which affects everyone "born of woman" (Ps 50 [51]:7; Jb 14:2). In the New Testament, Paul states that, as a result of Adam's sin, "all men sinned", and that "one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men" (Rom 5:12, 18). Therefore, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls, original sin "affected human nature", which is thus found "in a fallen state". Sin is therefore transmitted "by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice" (n. 404). Paul however admits an exception to this universal law: Christ, he "who knew no sin" (2 Cor 5:21), and was thus able, "where sin increased" (Rom 5:20), to make grace abound all the more.

These affirmations do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Mary was involved in sinful humanity. The parallel, established by Paul between Adam and Christ, is completed by that between Eve and Mary: the role of woman, important in the drama of sin, is equally so in the Redemption of mankind.

St Irenaeus presents Mary as the new Eve, who by her faith and obedience compensated for the disbelief and disobedience of Eve. Such a role in the economy of salvation requires the absence of sin. It was fitting that like Christ, the new Adam, Mary too, the new Eve did not know sin and was thus capable of co-operating in the Redemption.

Sin, which washes over humanity like a torrent, halts before the Redeemer and his faithful Collaborator. With a substantial difference: Christ is all holy by virtue of the grace that in his humanity derives from the divine person; Mary is all holy by virtue of the grace received by the merits of the Saviour."



After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

[In French] "Chers frères et soeurs, Je suis heureux d'accueillir les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. Je salue particulièrement le groupe oecuménique de la paroisse Saint-Paul de Kifissia en Grèce, ainsi que les jeunes, venus en pèlerinage aux tombeaux des Apôtres. Que votre séjour à Rome soit l'occasion d'un approfondissement de votre foi dans le Christ et de votre fidélité à son Église. À tous j'accorde de grand coeur la Bénédiction Apostolique."

[In English] "Dear Brothers and Sisters, I offer a warm welcome to the members of the Congregation Our Lady of the Missions who are meeting in Rome for their General Chapter. Dear Sisters: may you find profound jоу in your love of Christ and fidelity to the consecrated life. My cordial greetings also go to the members of the "Rainbows" pilgrimage. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Indonesia, Canada and the United States, I invoke the grace and peace of Christ our Saviour."

[In German] "Liebe Schwestern und Brüder! Indem ich unser aller Anliegen der Fürsprache Mariens empfehle, grüße ich Euch, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher, sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt der Pilgergruppe der Pfarrgemeinde Heilig Kreuz, Annaberg-Buchholz anläßlich des 150-jährigen Bestehens der Pfarrei sowie der Pilgergruppe aus Vohenstrauß zusammen mit der Partnergemeinde Stribro aus der Tschechischen Republik. Einen herzlichen Willkommensgruß richte ich weiter an die Teilnehmer der Diözesanwallfahrt der Kirchenchöre des Bistums Regensburg mit Herrn Weihbischof Wilhelm Schraml, an alle Meßdiener und Meßdienerinnen, besonders an die Gruppe aus der Diözese Eichstätt sowie an die zahlreichen Gruppen von Jugendlichen. Euch alten, Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat sowie allen, die uns geistig verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen."

[In Dutch] "Nu groet ik de pelgrims afkomstig uit België en Nederland. Speciaal groet ik jullie, jongeren: zet jullie energie in voor de opbouw van een samenleving waarin de beschaving van de liefde heerst. Van harte verleen ik u allen de Apostolische Zegen."

[In Spanish] "Queridos hermanos y hermanas, saludo con particular afecto a los visitantes de lengua española presentes en esta plaza de San Pedro. De un modo especial a los peregrinos de México, Colombia, Perú, Argentina, Costa Rica y Guatemala, así como a los grupos procedentes de Guipúzcoa, Castellón, Tortosa y demás peregrinos españoles. A todos os encomiendo a la protección de la Inmaculada Concepción. Que ella acompañe la vida de vuestras familias y de vuestras comunidades eclesiales por los caminos del Evangelio. Con estos deseos os imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica."

[In Portuguese] "Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs, a todos os presentes de língua portuguesa, a minha grata saudação de boas-vindas! Sobre os passos da vossa peregrinação terrena, vele carinhosa a Virgem Maria, para, com Ela e como Ela, sairdes vencedores das ciladas da serpente infernal. Como penhor dos favores do Alto para vós e vossos queridos, dou-vos a minha Bênção."

[In Lithuanian] "Širdingai sveikinu maldininkus, atvykusius iš Lietuvos. Garbė Jėzui Kristui! Šios pamaldžios kelionės įspūdžiai teišlieka jumyse kaipo ypatingos Dievo malonės ženklas, tepadeda jums kantriai ir ištikimai sekti Jėzų kasdienių rūpesčių kelyje, tampant vis gilesniais ir nuoseklesniais Evangelijos liudytojais. Telydi jus visur Viešpaties malonė ir globa! Garbė Jėzui Kristui!"

[In Czech] "Мilí poutníci ze zájezdu Concordie z Prahy, farníci ze Stříbra, farníci ze Senetářova a zaměstnanci Ostravské univerzity! Zítra budete slavit svátek svaté Zdislavy z Lemberka, které se nádherně podařilo skloubit světské starosti s duchovním životem: stala se vzornou manželkou a matkou. Dnešní svět prodělává hlubokou krizi rodinného života, poněvadž mnohá manželství nejsou budována na křesťanskìch základech. Žehnám celému vašemu národu, aby se mu na přímluvu svaté Zdislavy dostalo monha zdravìch křesťanskìch rodin."

[In Hungarian] "Pünkösd ünnepe elmúltával, szent Pál apostol szavaival köszöntelek Benneteket, kedves hercegszántói zarándokok: « Viseljétek el egymást szeretettel. Törekedjetek arra, hogy a béke kötelékében fenntartsátok a Lélek egységét » (Eph. 4,3). A Szentlélek alakítsa át bensőnket ajándékaival és teremtsen bennünk új szívet, hogy hitünk növekedjék. Ezt kérem imámban, Szúz Mária közbenjárására, Tinéktek és otthoni Szeretteiteknek. Apostoli Áldásommal. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!"

[In Croatian] "Srdačno pozdravljam profesore i osoblje Srednje škole Stanka Ožanića u Zadru te skupinu hodočasnika iz Splita, grada koji će zajedno sa Solinom 8. i 9. lipnja biti domaćin Susreta hrvatske katoličke mladeži, kojemu je geslo: « S Kristom u treće tisućljeće ». Predragi, žarko želim da taj susret, u kojemu će sudjelovati brojna mladež ne samo iz Hrvatske i Bosne i Hercegovine nego i iz inozemstva, urodi obilnim plodovima za pripravu na Veliki jubilej 2000, godine i da označi početak novoga doba istinskoga mira u pravdi na jugoistoku Europe. Sve vas od srca blagoslivljem. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!"

[In Slovakian] "Srdečne vítam slovenských pútnikov z Bratislavy a Trnavy, z Košíc a Prešova, z Malých Uheriec a Nových Zámkov, z Nitrianskeho Pravna, Prievidze a Novakov, z Lučenca a Hriňovej, z Myjavy a Priechodu. Drahí bratia a sestry. Minulú nedel'u - na Turíce - sme v liturgii počuli, ako Duch Svätý zhromaždil v Jeruzaleme prvotnú Cirkev a začal zjednocovať l'udstvo. Dnes ste prišli do Ríma a chcete pozdraviť Petrovho nástupcu. V tomto zhromaždení veriacich okolo pápeža môžete vidiet', ako Duch Svätý pokračuje vo svojom diele zjednocovania l'udskej rodiny. Bud'te vd'ační Bohu, že aj vy patríte do Katolíckej cirkvi a milujte ju. K tomu vám zo srdca udel'ujem apoštolské požehnanie. Pochválený bud' Ježiš Kristus."

[In Polish] "Serdecznie witam wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski. W szczególności pozdrawiam: z Krakowa, Chełma i Sosnowca - młodzież licealną; z Jawora, Biłgoraja i Sosnowca - dzieci szkolne. Pozdrawiam parafie: z Nowego Targu, Jędrzejowa, Rumi, Dąbrowy Górniczej, Głogowa, z archidiecezji częstochowskiej. Pozdrawiam również pielgrzymów: z Białegostoku, Bytomia, Częstochowy, Łazisk Górnych, Międzyrzecza, Opola, Oleśnicy, Radomia, Konina, Piotrkowi Trybunalskiego, Sieradza, Opatowa, Szczecina, Świdwina, Włocławka, Wrocławia, Warszawy i Gniezna. Pozdrawiam wreszcie Polską Misjęс Katolicką z Monachium, Ulm, Kempten i Norymbergi . Miesiąc majowy, miesiąc maryjny dobiega końca. Dzień dzisiejszy, 29 maja, jest dia nas rokrocznie wspomnieniem błogosławionej śmierci wielkiego Prymasa Tysiąclecia. Pan Bóg odwołał go do siebie właśnie w tych ostatnich dniach maja, w uroczystość Wniebowstąpienia. Był on jednym z wielkich czcicieli Bogarodzicy Dziewicy, Bogiem sławionej Maryl, który na pewno wniósł - tak jak wielu jego poprzedników od czasów apostolskich - bardzo wiele do poznania tajemnic maryjnych, a zwłaszcza Jej Niepokalanego Poczęcia. Niech pamięć Księdza Prymasa będzie zawsze źródłem odnowy duchowej d1a Kościoła w Polsce, dla narodu polskiego w obliczu trzeciego millennium, do którego sil przybliżamy, ażebyśmy w to trzecie millennium chrześcijaństwa weszli w duchu takim, do jakiego przygotowywał nas kard. Wyszyński w obliczu millennium Chrztu Polski przed 30 laty. Tego życzę serdecznie wszystkim obecnym tutaj na tej audiencji, a także wszystkim Polakom w kraju í na całym świecie. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!"

[In Italian] "Porgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare al folto gruppo di devoti della Madonna Incoronata di Foggia, insieme con i figli di Don Orione, che reggono il Santuario. Carissimi, grazie per la vostra presenza. Ricordo la mia visita alla vostra bella chiesa e sono lieto di donarvi oggi una corona per la sacra immagine della Vergine da voi tanto venerata. So che attraverso i cenacoli mariani voi cercate di diffondere nelle famiglie la preghiera del santo Rosario preparando così il Giubileo del Duemila. Maria, Regina della Famiglia, protegga sempre tutti voi e le vostre famiglie. Saluto poi i fedeli del Sacro Cuore di Gesù in Nardò e, nel 25° di fondazione della loro parrocchia, li incoraggio ad essere sempre pietre vive della Chiesa. Accolgo, inoltre, volentieri il Serra Club Bari, i partecipanti all'assemblea generale della Confederazione degli Orafi e il gruppo della Banca Cooperativa Cattolica di Montefiascone, accompagnato dal Vescovo di Viterbo, Monsignor Fiorino Tagliaferri.

[To the young people, the sick & the newly married] "Mi è infine gradito rivolgere un saluto particolare ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli. Lo Spirito Santo, dono di Cristo risuscitato, guidi voi, cari giovani, e vi renda сарасi di orientare con decisione la vita verso il bene; sostenga voi, cari ammalati, ad accogliere la sofferenza quale misterioso strumento di salvezza per voi e реr i fratelli; aiuti voi, cari sposi novelli, a riscoprire ogni giorno le esigenze dell'amore, per essere sempre pronti a comprendervi e sostenervi reciprocamente. A tutti la mia Apostolica Benedizione."


© Copyright 1996 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana