We began this week with Christ’s words: “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid,” and we end the week with a fitting response, the courageous words of our Blessed Mother: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” In the documents of Vatican II, Mary is hailed as “a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar of faith and charity” (LG 53). Today’s great solemnity of her Assumption into Heaven offers us many reasons to take courage and to emulate her in putting our whole trust in God.
How is Mary a type and excellent example of the Church? Today’s first reading directs our attention to the mysterious “woman clothed with the sun” in the Book of Revelation. This woman is described in both difficult and jubilant terms. Her journey is not easy: she wails aloud in labor; her child is threatened by a dragon; she must flee into the desert, an area of desolation and dryness. On the other hand, this woman is radiant in glory, clothed with the sun, standing on the moon and crowned with stars. We are reminded of Christ’s transfiguration in glory on Mt. Tabor, which we celebrated last week. The end of today’s reading even refers to Christ being “caught up to God and his throne,” and we hear a loud voice proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the authority of Christ – all of which was prefigured in his transfiguration.
The Woman of Revelation represents both Mary and the Church. She is both glorious and suffering, already-but-not-yet victorious. We in the Church are all in this condition; we are already glorious but not yet. Mary our Blessed Mother is an example for all of us who experience both laborious and glorious moments.
Today’s Gospel helps us ponder Mary’s outstanding qualities – well worth emulating during our laborious sojourn – particularly her courageous trust in the Lord. Though we are celebrating the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary, we look back to the second joyful mystery, Mary’s Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. This event follows from the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told her that her cousin Elizabeth was already six months pregnant, despite her old age – a sign that nothing is impossible with God. After this assurance, Mary gave her fiat, the beautiful expression of her exemplary faith. Then she rushed to visit Elizabeth, as recounted in our Gospel for today. We learn from Mary that, when God reveals his will to us, we ought to respond promptly, with courageous faith, ready to serve.
As soon as Mary arrives, the Holy Spirit moves in the soul of Elizabeth’s unborn son and fills Elizabeth’s own heart. The Spirit inspires her to say beautiful and most assuring words to Mary, which we use frequently in the Hail Mary. Mary is key to our own response to the Holy Spirit. She enables us to be sensitive and docile to the Spirit’s stirrings.
Mary bursts into her beautiful Magnificat, which Scripture scholars see as closely patterned after the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2. Mary’s prayerful canticle rises from a heart that has constantly pondered the word of God. We learn from her that our souls too are to proclaim the greatness of the Lord, adoring his awesome presence in our lives. The latter part of the Magnificat teaches us the Lord’s way of reversing things: the proud are scattered, the mighty are cast down from their thrones while the lowly are lifted up, the rich are sent away empty while the hungry are filled with good things. Mary’s assumption into Heaven is a marvelous fulfillment of this divine pattern: in her lowliness she is lifted up in glory. With her we courageously entrust our future to the Lord who is both merciful and just.
Today’s second reading teaches us to base our hope for glory on Christ himself. Just as Christ has been raised from the dead, we too, even if we die, have a sure hope of following him into risen life. Our assurance is that the reign of Christ will endure until all his enemies – evil, sin and death – are subdued. The turbulent waters and the howling winds in last Sunday’s Gospel are images of these enemies; and Christ has put them all “under his feet.” Mary’s assumption into Heaven is a sign that Christ’s promised reign over sin and death is already fulfilled. If we follow the way of Mary’s faith, we can look forward to a share in the glory that she has already attained.
In celebrating the Assumption, we assent to the revealed truth that our Blessed Mother is already present, body and soul, in the glorious company of her Son. As the psalmist proclaims, “the queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.” Mary is our Queen. Her queenship is not lordship over her Son but rather a share in the reign that is his. For the ancient Israelites, whose kings had several wives, the most powerful woman in the kingdom was the king’s mother, the gebirah, the Queen Mother. The king’s wives could only approach him when he called for them. But his mother had a privileged place at his side; the king listened to her wise advice and enjoyed her motherly presence. The Queen Mother’s dignity and stature were entirely based on the kingly power of her son. This gives us a good image of Mary’s role now that she has been assumed into Heaven. She is both interceding for us and showing us that God’s plan for our future glory is already achieved.
Like the Woman in Revelation, we continue to be beset with challenges, sufferings and all sorts of evil, but today’s feast assures us that if we promptly respond to God’s revelation, remain docile to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, and surrender our lives to the Lordship of Christ, then we can look forward to sharing in his glory, with Mary.
When God reveals his will to me, do I respond promptly with courageous faith? Am I quick to ask Mary to intercede for me and to show me God’s plan? Do I have recourse to the Holy Spirit as I am beset with challenges, sufferings and all sorts of evil?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.