We celebrate this feast which is based partly on logic, on devotion and on
communal tradition. Mysteries usually defy logic and devotional/emotional
practices usually fade or lose their original identities. Traditions need
to be kept tightly or we will continue the practice, but create new reasons
We are praying with our belief in Mary as the mother of Jesus and the mother
of God. We are praying with our awareness of how blessed is fidelity when
it is lived within the human experiences of letting go to clarity and quick
results. This is a major feast of the Catholic Church which replaces
even the usual Sunday in Ordinary Time. There are the questions, of course,
about whether she died first. If she were sinless and death is a result of
sin, then logic would demand that she was and is living in heaven, where
ever that is. We pray with more than questions, but our devotion to Jesus
requires our devotion to his close friends of whom his mother would be prime.
We pray with our reverence for our cultic and communal traditions of which
this would also be prime. So what we are praying with this week is about
being authentically Catholic. The Assumption is found no where at all in
Holy Scripture, but Catholics hold fast to God’s guiding revelation through
time and the human experiences of memory. We do believe in Scripture of course,
but believe also that God used more than the written word to assist us in
our search for peaceful living.
We can pray with logic, imagination, devotion and a sense that our faith
extends from heaven through time and into our futures with the grace to live
what we believe. We are encouraged by this one woman’s trust in what was
not written, but spoken with words based on her communal traditions; God
calls humans into mystery and remains faithful in time. We do not adore her,
but admire her.
Our First Reading is one of the many visions related by the author in this
Book of Revelation. It is somewhat of a picture-book of symbols and images
which all take time to interpret. Presumably the author did not have Mary
of Nazareth in mind during his description of the “woman” in this narrative.
John, the presumed author, pictures the “woman” as a symbol for the nation
and people, Israel. She is pictured as giving birth as Israel, through its
pains, will bring forth the Messiah.
The “dragon” is the “evil one” perhaps Egypt. The “third” of
the stars which are swept away by the “dragon” are the fallen angels seduced
The Evil One is seen as prepared to devour the newly born, but like Moses,
the One who would rule over all the earth was snatched up to divine safety.
The “woman,” Israel, is kept in a desert prepared for by God.
The final verse specifies the picture as might a headline. Roughly paraphrased
it proclaims that the birth of the true savior has taken place. The kingdom
of the Christ has begun!
The Gospel has two parts. After Mary has exercised her freedom in responding
to Gabriel’s invitation from God to be the “woman” of life, she visits her
cousin Elizabeth. After their joyful encounter Mary proclaims a great song
of God’s ways. We refer to this passage as the “Magnificat” or how Mary relates
that her human spirit makes God magnified or enlarged. Hannah, in the second
chapter of the First Book of Samuel sings a similar praise of God’s being
kind to the poor. Mary is presented as singing such a song because she knows
herself to be lowly and yet God has chosen her. It has been God’s way to
take what little, poor, rejected and express divine greatness is using such
as Israel and Mary.
So much for the Scriptures which say nothing directly about Mary’s being
taken up body and soul into heaven. There are all kinds of questions and
historical elements attached to this feast. Where, when it did happen, and
why is it not in any of the Gospels; these are good questions. The Catholic
Church has held this belief for as long as it has records, but not until
the middle of the last century was it made an infallible dogma. This means
it was, is and always will be held as true and indisputable. There still
remains the question about Mary’s being physically in heaven and as she was,
a human person. Seeing that she is not divine, how does she hear our prayers?
I don’t know!
I am celebrating this liturgy in a small church on an American Indian reservation
in northern Wisconsin this weekend. What will I say to the congregation assembled
for this feast. They will want to know, but want also for me to keep it simple
and short. I could give them the short history of how this dogma came to
be. I could mention the place of tradition within the Catholic Church. I
could talk about infallibility too. About heaven I have beliefs, but no first-hand
knowledge except by comparing it to the surroundings there in northern Wisconsin.
I think I will stay away from make- believe about heaven and Mary as well.
Mary trusted her prayer and the life which led to it and from it. Mary was
troubled by the invitation and the events of her “yes.” Mary allowed things
to pass in and out of her life, but allowed everything into her heart. Mary
allowed God to be both God and then Made-Man. Mary had earth on earth. She
allowed mystery to be treated as fact, while remaining mystery. For her fidelity
she deserved only what comes from fidelity and that is pain, joys, loss and
finding, deaths and risings. As a human she deserved only what humans deserve,
being created, sustained and always loved by God. Mary did not deserve her
being assumed into heaven; she did not earn it, but received what was offered.
We believe she was offered herself, her journey, and the consequences of
her “Let it be done.” So it was. It was all done even to her being taken
to where our “yes's” will take us.
Mary, woman of our earth, pray for us right
And right before we will meet you,
And you will tell us how it all happened. Amen