15 Aug, Monday, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The text for this feast is also in our Sundays & Feasts section
Just as Jesus was raised to the glory of heaven, after his death on the cross, so too, his mother, the first among Christians, was raised body and soul into eternal life.
Rev 12:1-10. The vision of the woman and the red dragon was intended of the early church under threat of persecution; but its meaning is extended to include the Assumption.
1 Cor 15:20-25. Christ is “first fruits of all who have fallen asleep.” Faith sees his Blessed Mother as already sharing in the final destiny of “those who belong to Christ.”
Lk 11:27-28. The words “Blessed is the womb that bore you,” apply to Mary, but even more so the other saying, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”
– that Mary will always inspire us by her sinlessness.
– that by rejecting sin our personalities may grow in grace and harmony.
– that by following Mary’s example we will become more other-oriented.
First-fruits of Redemption (Patrick Rogers)
“God created man in his own image and likeness.” On the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption into Heaven, it is good to consider this great statement from the inspired creation story. Trouble is, mostly we tend to reverse the meaning of it, and try to shape God in our own image and likeness. Each of us has a limited concept of the Creator. How we cling to the notion of a docile God, who will grant our wishes if only we ask him in the right way; or an indulgent God who will turn a blind eye on the double standards in our lives; or a vengeful God, whom we serve out of fear, in order to buy ourselves into his good graces. To test the quality of our religion we might wonder, Do my ideas in any way reflect Mary’s vision of God, especially when she says, as in today’s gospel, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
Our blessed Lady combined humble worship of God with deep joy in his presence, foreshadowing the advice later given by St Paul to the early Christians, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17f). In her Magnificat, Mary is not concerned about herself, she does not ask anything for herself, she is not worried about the future; she thinks only of the positive things that God has done for her up to the present moment, and of the debt of gratitude she owes to God. Self-forgetfulness is a prerequisite for true love, and in Mary we have the supreme example of a person totally captivated by the love of God. No one apart from Mary has ever lived, suffered, died, in such simplicity, in such deep, uncomplicated love of her Maker. Indeed, she is the fairest of all God’s creatures.
Mary saw herself as simply a handmaid, a willing servant, of the Lord. She she lived solely for God, and God, who cannot be outdone in generosity, conferred on her the fullness of grace; he blessed her in a most exceptional manner, through the merits of her Son, Jesus Christ. By his passion and resurrection, Christ conquered the powers of evil, and overturned the ultimate power of death. And if Mary, untouched by the least stain of sin, was intimately associated with her divine Son on Calvary in his victory over sin, it was fitting that she should also be given a special role to play in his victory over death.
It is also true that just as Christ suffered death, so Mary also had the human experience of dying. But as the Preface of today’s Mass says, “You would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to your Son, the Lord of all life.” So it is that we recall today, how shortly after her death, our Lady was reunited with her Son in anticipation of the final resurrection of the dead. She was taken up, body and soul into heaven, to be enthroned above the saints for ever. This is what we mean by her glorious Assumption.
And just as Jesus did not abandon us by his Ascension, but continually guides and sustain his Church, so Mary in the Assumption has not been separated from the Christian community, but remains, for each one of us, a sure sign that we too are called, like her, to share in the fullness of Christ’s glory. She is the model, and indeed guarantee, of all that the Church hopes to become in heaven. We can pray today that Mary may plead for us with her divine Son, so that we too may be found worthy to come to that place in heaven which God has prepaed for all those who love him, and place all their trust in him.
Transparent Beauty (Liam Swords)
It is the age of the visual. Television forms an ever-increasing portion of our daily diet. Advertising is a multi million-dollar industry. Pretty girls seduce us from every hoarding-board, from the pages of every glossy magazine, from every TV screen. Physical beauty is a marketable product. “Miss World” is not born, she is assembled by those whose business is to market beauty. So, the millions spent on cosmetics and fashion. One even gets the impression that the recent health-consciousness craze is aimed more at producing better figures than healthier bodies. Behind the modern cult of youth, too, one can detect this obsession with physical beauty. For those who can read the neon signs of the times, the message is loud and clear. War has been declared on ugliness.
And on sin too. Heirs to an age over-obsessed with sin and evil, when occasions of sin included every fleeting glimpse of female flesh and the convivial atmosphere of every local pub, our generation has reacted by a massive rejection of the notion of sin itself. But sin will not go away by being simply dismissed, by taking away people’s awareness of it.
A world so obsessed by physical beauty and so dismissive of sin, is condemned to futility. We need the saving grace of a Redeemer, not the bland inducements of an advertiser. Real beauty is not a matter of the length of a nose or the shape of a mouth. It has to do with the quality of the person.
Probably, two of the most beautiful people of recent times were John XXIII and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Neither of them would have distinguished themselves in a beauty contest. Yet nobody would hesitate to call them beautiful people:
Undoubtedly, the most beautiful creature to grace this planet was Mary the mother of Jesus. “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” Sadly, she has often been badly served by her most devoted followers. They have given us so often a miraculous madonna or plaster-cast virgin instead of the marvellously beautiful person she really was.
Probably the finest compliment ever paid her came from the lips of an earthy old peasant woman who cried out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the paps that gave you suck.”
Mary’s transparent beauty derived not from any physical endowments but from her sinlessness. It is a pity we are accustomed so often to think of sinlessness as a negative thing. It wasn’t what she didn’t do which made her sinless and beautiful but what she did. It was the marvellous harmony of her nature which made her so sensitive, so caring, so other-oriented. Her first concern, on being told she was to be the mother of God, was for her older cousin, Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. Christmas cards, depicting the flight into Egypt and the nativity, give no idea of the sturdy virtue of the teenage girl who delivered her child in such appalling conditions. Thirty years later, at the marriage of friends in Cana her sensitive and tactful concern for the newly-weds provoked Christ’s first miracle. The woman beside the cross on Calvary is an unforgettable model of love and fidelity. Mary was a beautiful person unscarred by sin. She was a woman for all seasons.
Future Enhances Present (John Walsh)
One of the tragedies of the present age, it has been said, is the loss of zest for life, the absence of love and respect for life. This disregard for the value and preciousness of human existence on earth arises in part from a lost vision of the future; and the feast we are celebrating today asks us to look forward to life hereafter in the company of Christ, his Blessed Mother, and the entire body of saints for all eternity. The liturgy confronts us with three great mysteries that surround the person of Mary. There is her sinlessness from the first moment of her conception, her extraordinary privilege of being the mother of God, and the fact that after her death God raised her and she was taken up body and soul into heaven. The first reading about the woman clothed with the sun, and the moon at her feet, is a piece of scripture which had a deep significance for the Church of the Middle Ages. It is, by the way, one of the most difficult passages, in the whole of the New Testament, to try and unravel what he author meant when writing it.
Some commentators hold that the birth of the Messiah referred to is not the nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem, but rather his birth to a new existence on Easter Sunday morning. The birth pangs referred to then become the sufferings he endured on the Cross. In actual fact the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, many maintain, was virginal, and therefore painless. The dragon mentioned is Satan, who represents the powers of evil which are forever hostile to God and his people. Because theologians in the Middle Ages, nevertheless, recognised the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as being in some way signified in the woman clothed with the sun, it made people look forward with hope, and even longing, to their own future beyond the grave.
In this feast the Church gives all of us a pledge of resurrection to a new life hereafter. We shall be like Christ, it keeps telling us, and it puts before us what happened to Mary’s body after death, as a pledge of the truth of what it is claiming. Mary, a purely human person, has been taken up, body and soul, to be forever with her Divine Son. But the Assumption into heaven, or the glorification of Mary, to give it another name, does not mean that Mary has abandoned everyone living still on this earth, that she is in the special abode of the sanctified, far removed from all of us. Rather is it true, that by it, Mary has come all the more personally close to us. Her loving gaze is fixed forever on her risen Son, but also on his sisters and brothers, who are still here on earth. Her whole glorified existence is one of praise to God, is one of thanks to God, is one of intercession with God for each and every one of us. For what she is, she is through Christ, and what she does, she does through Christ. Her Son of course is a divine person, and Mary, while remaining a human person, reflects the person of Jesus in a manner more perfect than any other human being could possibly do.
Mary’s great privilege and prerogative is that she has been, and continues to be in a most unique way, the instrument of God’s mercy, God’s plan for our redemption. His plan depended on her “fiat,” her saying, “Be it done unto me, according to your word.” Her response to God’s call was complete and utterly unselfish, and so she was to become the new ark of the covenant, the dwelling-place of the divine One on earth. It follows that Mary is a sign of the Church also, the Church which now brings Christ to mankind as Mary brought him into this world, and, by the merits of her divine Son, Mary assists the Church in raising us up to be sons and daughters of God. In order to enter into this close relationship with God, we too must say “yes” to God. But Mary’s “yes” was different to ours; for hers was absolute; it was an acceptance of the cross which was the lot of all closely associated with Christ – seeing Christ rejected, contradicted, vilified, crucified before her eyes. Mary’s “yes” was an acceptance of th sword of ultimate sorrow which would pierce her heart.
Thus it was fitting that she, whose response to God was so complete, should be rewarded in a special way, and become united, soul and body, with her maker after death. Much of the Bible can be summed up in one word, “remember,” that helped keep the faith alive in Israel. Our faith also can be vitalised by reflection on God’s plan of salvation in Jesus and Mary, Jesus’ mother and ours. Let us rejoice then with Mary this day, let us take hope, let us remember that we also have a glorious future.
Mary, the New Eve (Matthew Kelty)
The fan-coil unit in my office in the retreat house is basically a long brass tube weaving back and forth in a grid. In winter hot water flows through it, and in summer cold water. A fan blows over the coil and so sends hot or cold air into the room in season. Fine. But the tube is clogged and only a trickle of hot water or cold water flows through it, and the room is neither adequately heated or cooled. Well, they are working on it!
The Church is a pure stream of flowing water carrying the full story of Redemption: entire, authentic and trustworthy. When some brethren centuries ago left the body of the Church to go their own way, they were dependent on their own to provide the flowing waters of the Faith. Alas, it is a stream clogged with human opinion and private understanding.
This is not said to fault, to condemn, to put down. Rather, it is said with much sadness. And that sadness becomes great on a day like today when it comes to the Mother of God.
So much of the world is deprived of the full story. There is warmth and cool coming through, but it is inadequate.
What a pity not to be comforted with the full story of the Mother of Christ. This is no one’s fault today, for today’s world is the product of yesterday. These poorly served people are no more responsible for their situation than we are for ours. We have been blessed through no merit of our own with the full flow of the message. And had no more to do with that than they had to do with their situation. Surely we can share what we have with prayer.
For the Mother of Christ is the Mother of all, and surely the Mother of all Christians. She is present to them as She is to us, loves them as She loves us. And She grieves that they do not love Her as they could.
No Hail Mary, no Salve Regina, no Madonna, no Blessed Virgin Mary icon, no Rosary. No Lady of Lourdes, and no Lady of Guadalupe, no Litany of Loretto, and no Marian shrine. No pilgrimage to Her holy places. No May procession. No Immaculate Conception and no Assumption. How sad. How sad.
I have led many to the Rosary. It is not that they do not love Her. It’s more that they don’t know Her that well, are not on familiar terms with Her, do not often pray to Her.
I think our devotion to the Mother of God ought to be ecumenical, with a mind to all people, to all the world. This is not mere gesture and pious turn of phrase, but a spirit that moves mountains. Surely it can help remove the barriers that impede the flow of the full story.
What a pity not to see in Her the first fruit of the Passion, Death, and Rising of Christ. She is the new Eve. And if She is the new Eve, She is the Mother of all the living.
Like today. The companion piece to the Immaculate Conception. The start of the story and its end. She is without sin as we were all meant to be, conceived in a human act of love that was not tainted with the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Conceived as we were all meant to be in the providence of God, but spoiled for the human family by a free act of a genuine freedom. And since we are one family, we share in the Fall.
But She, through Her Son, was preserved from that, in view of Her destiny as the Mother of Christ. This an act of delicate love that would not permit us to be shamed by the birth of a Christ not wholly and perfectly beautiful.
And if in Her Conception She was God’s grace at work, so too in Her Assumption into Heaven. Earthly life done, she went to Heaven as we were all meant to do. Alas, death intervened, a result of sin.
But Christ’s victory over sin and death was made evident, visible, effective first of all in Her, that we might see in Her the magnificence of Christ’s victory, a victory we share in and will share in at the last day in our own Assumption, ours coming at the end when death will be finally, totally, and forever overcome. In Her we see the full fruit of the Redemption achieved. The first victory of Christ for us all. We see in Her our original mother restored to her pristine glory.
The excelling beauty of the poetry of God is nowhere more beautifully written than in Her. What a joy for humankind. And how sad that all do not know, or know perhaps only partially and not quite adequately.
Thus a so-called patriarchal Church is seen as also feminine. And since faith is expressed in prayer and revealed in action, it is no wonder that nobody on earth has done more for woman and carries on today, often alone, in a world that trivializes sex, perverts marriage, and puts life to death in a new barbarism.
I suggest you be grateful for what you have and like any highly-favored by God’s gifts, that you be generous in your prayer that all may know what we know, may share what you have. Your joy can only be the greater for so doing. Amen.
First Reading: Book of Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah.
Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 15:20-25
Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
Gospel: Luke 11:27-28
While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”