This, from Vatican Radio:
Pope Benedict XVI marks Immaculate Conception in Rome
The late afternoon Sun was brilliant in the cloudless blue sky over Rome Thursday afternoon, and the air was unseasonably warm when Pope Benedict XVI made his way through the streets of the city and to the packed quare just off the Spanish Steps, for one of the great traditional Roman appointments of the season: the homage to Mary on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The Holy Father this year made a stop en route to receive the homage of the Merchants’ Association of via dei Condotti – the famous shopping street that runs to the base of the Steps.
After a brief reading from the Book of Revelation, Pope Benedict spoke to the gathered faithful about the meaning of the Church’s constant faith conviction, according to which the Mother of God was conceived without the stain of Original Sin.
“The only pitfall of which the Church can and should be afraid,” said Pope Benedict, is the sin of her members.”
“Mary, on the other hand,” he continued, “is Immaculate, free from all stain of sin. The Church is holy, but at the same time marked by our sins.”
“For this reason,” explained Pope Benedict, “the pilgrim people of God, turn in time to Christ’s celestial Mother and ask her help; they ask that she accompany their journey of faith; that she encourage their commitment to the Christian life and that she support their hope.
“We need it,” said Pope Benedict, “especially at this difficult moment for Italy, for Europe, for so many parts of the world.”
Although it has always been part of the Faith of the Church, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined only in 1854 by Pope Pius IX in his Bull, Ineffabilis Deus, which states that “that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of Original Sin.”
Earlier in the day, in remarks to the faithful gathered for the Angelus prayer, the Holy Father refered to the Gospel account of the Annunciation in which the angel Gabriel greets Mary as “full of grace.” He said that this expression indicates God’s marvellous work of love which wishes to restore to us our life and our freedom, lost through sin, through the figure of his only begotten Son.
The Pope went on to say, “It is for this reason, that the Church has since the second century in both the East and the West invoked and celebrated the figure of the Blessed Virgin, who by saying “Yes” brought Heaven closer to Earth.”
After the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, Pope Benedict greeted pilgrims in many languages, including English.
"I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors on this great feast-day when we honour the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her sinless perfection, Mary is a great sign of hope for the Church and for the world, a sign of the marvels that God’s grace can accomplish in us, his human creatures. In these days of Advent, in company with the holy and immaculate Mother of God, let us prepare to welcome her Son into our lives and into our hearts. May God bestow his blessings of joy and peace upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones at home."