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 for them.
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 by pride.
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 and 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 “yeses” will take us.
Mary, woman of our earth, pray for us right now
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