Photo: A firefighter places a wreath on a statue of Mary overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Rome’s firefighters have observed the tradition every year since 1857. Pope Francis visited the statue for prayer later in the day. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

By Ann Schneible

VATICAN (CNA/EWTN News) –The message of the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is that “everything is a gift freely given by God, everything is grace,” said Pope Francis in his Angelus address Monday, Dec. 8th. Because of this, he said,  we too must “become a gift for others.”

The feast of the Immaculate Conception, commemorated annually on Dec. 8, is the day in which the Church celebrates Mary having been conceived without original sin.

Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel account of the Annunciation, during which Gabriel declares Mary to be “full of grace.”

“In her there was no room for sin,” he said, for “God had chosen her (from the beginning) to be the mother of Jesus.”

The Holy Father noted Mary’s receptivity to grace, and her abandonment to the words of the Angel: “Be it done unto me according to your word.”

“She did not say ‘I will act according to your word’: no! Rather: ‘Be it done unto me…’”  Mary’s response, Pope Francis said, shows “that we must abandon ourselves to God” in order to truly be conformed to His will.

“Mary is receptive, but not passive,” he said. “On a physical level, she receives the power of the Holy Spirit, but then gives (her) flesh and blood to the Son of God who is formed within her. Therefore, on a spiritual level, she welcomes the Grace and conforms to it with faith.”

Pope Francis went on to stress that “salvation is a gift” freely given by God, which we in turn “are called to freely give.”

This call to give what has been received, he said, is in “imitation of Mary who, soon after having heard the announcement of the Angel, went to share the gift of fruitfulness with her relative Elizabeth.”

“The Spirit is given to us and we, with the strength of the Spirit, must become a gift for others,” he said, allowing “the Holy Spirit to make us instruments of welcome, instruments of reconciliation, instruments of forgiveness.”

After leading the crowds at St. Peter’s Square in the recitation of the Angelus, Pope Francis told the audience he would make a pilgrimage  later in the afternoon to Rome’s Spanish Steps where he would venerate the statue of the Immaculate Conception.

“I ask you to spiritually unite yourselves to me in this pilgrimage, which expresses filial devotion to our Heavenly Mother.”

The statue of Our Lady, which rests atop a 40-foot-high pillar, was erected in 1857 to commemorate Blessed Pius IX’s proclamation of the doctrine that Mary was conceived without sin.

Earlier in the day, a large wreath had been hung on the statue’s arm, and flowers at the column’s base, in preparation for the Holy Father’s visit.

At the statue, Pope Francis read aloud a prayer to Our Lady, invoking her to “give life” to the hope which comes from evil’s powerlessness against her.

“The power of God’s love, which has preserved you from Original sin, free all of humanity through your intercession from every spiritual and material slavery, and make the designs of God’s salvation victorious within hearts and events.”

In the days leading up to Christmas, Pope Francis called on Mary to “teach us to go against the tide, to deprive, debase, give of ourselves, to listen, to be silent, to decentralize ourselves, in order to leave space for the beauty of God, the source of all true joy.”