The author of Revelation almost certainly was not referring to Mary in the passages of today’s reading. Nonetheless, from the early Church onward, these passages -- “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” -- have often been read in this way. This is a reflection of the evolving consciousness of the Christian community that Mary has a special place in the story of God-among-us in the person of Jesus. This specialness of Mary continues to this day and is reflected in today’s feast of the Assumption.
Today’s gospel contains one of the great prayers of Christianity, the Magnificat of Mary. What caught my attention in rereading the prayer, is Mary’s acknowledgment that her child and her specialness is a gift of God. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked upon his lowly servant.” How this attitude contrasts with the attitudes of so many in contemporary Western cultures. “I can do it myself.” “I can gut this problem out.” Mary, by contrast, acknowledges her deep dependence on God for all things.
There appears to be a tension between Mary’s Magnificat and the author of Revelation’s description of the woman. Mary’s prayer is one of deep humility; the author of Revelation describes the woman in triumphal symbols. But this tension between the glorification of Mary in the Church’s interpretation of Revelation and in the Assumption and Mary’s own humility brings to mind the saying of Jesus found in all three of the synoptic gospels. “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16: 25-26) The person who is selfless and acknowledges his utter dependence on God is with God; the person who believes that he can live life on his own without the help of God or his community is lost.
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