Father Donald Senior, CP

Aug. 15: Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Our solemnity too

Rv 11:19, 12:1-6, 10; Psalm 45:10, 11, 12, 16; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1:39-56

“Our tainted nature’s solitary boast,” is a famous tribute to Mary written by the English poet William Wordsworth in his 1822 work “The Virgin.” His praise of Mary reflects one traditional aspect of Catholic devotion to Mary that through anticipation of her Son’s redeeming love, Mary alone among all human beings was conceived without sin. That is a traditional doctrine captured in another Marian feast, the Immaculate Conception.

But from another vantage point, the Assumption celebrates not the solitary nature of Mary compared to the rest of us, but, in fact, her deep communion with all who trust in God’s mercy. The conviction that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven, body and spirit, anticipates our own ultimate destiny.

While reference to Mary in the New Testament is relatively spare, the passages where she does appear are exceptionally rich in meaning. Paul, for example, refers to Mary not by name and only to affirm Jesus’ authentic human character (“born of a woman,” Gal 4:4). In Mark’s Gospel, the evangelist refers to Mary only in passing as the mother of Jesus and one who, along with the rest of her family, seems baffled by Jesus’ mission (see Mk 3:21). But in the other three Gospels, Mary’s role is foundational. 

Of course, she is acclaimed in all the Gospels as the mother of Jesus and therefore singularly blessed, accepting in a spirit of faith God’s remarkable call to her. In John’s Gospel, she draws from Jesus his first miracle at Cana (Jn 2:5), and, with the beloved disciple, stands by his cross. In the Acts of the Apostles she, along with the rest of Jesus’ first disciples, is a recipient of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14).

Luke, in particular, portrays Mary as one who not only gives birth to Jesus but in her words and actions anticipates what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Her resounding “yes” anticipates the right response of all those whom God will call to an unexpected journey (“May it be done to me according to your word”). Her visit to Elizabeth, which we hear of in today’s reading, anticipates all Christian ministry, bringing the presence of Jesus to those in need and provoking true joy (John the Baptist leaps in the womb of Elizabeth as the sound of Mary’s voice). 

Also, she hears the words of the prophet Simeon, who welcomes the young mother to the temple, that this unique child will also cause her suffering, something all mothers know. Faced with baffling realities and anxious moments (Jesus lost in the temple), she turns over these things in her heart, seeking God’s will. She shares in Jesus’ sufferings, witnessing the death of an only child, surely among the most painful of all human sufferings.

The most extensive words of Mary in the Gospels are the Magnificat, the bold prophetic canticle sung by Mary during her visit to Elizabeth. She speaks in images her son will echo in his first address in the synagogue of Nazareth: lifting up the poor and oppressed; reversing the exploitation carried out by the powerful; fulfilling the promises of God’s enduring mercy to Israel.

The Mary of the New Testament is our “nature’s boast” but not solitary, as this unique solemnity of the Assumption tells us. Paradoxically, Mary, the mother of Jesus, also embodies what it means to be a follower of Jesus. 

For all this, Mary’s destiny is not cut off by death but, through the power of the resurrection, she is transformed body and spirit and lives forever with her beloved son. How else could it be that the body who shaped the very body of Jesus could ever be lost? Or that one whose heart beat in unison with the heart of God’s Incarnate Word could be eternally muted?

The marvel is that this same destiny is held out to us. Our Christian faith holds that as human beings, body and spirit, we too are a gift of God, never to be thrown away but cherished by God for all eternity. The celebration of the Assumption of Mary is also our celebration.


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