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Thursday 15 August 2024 The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Promise Is Faithfully Fulfilled

Revelation 11: 19-12:6, 10: 1 Corinthians 15: 20-26; Luke 1: 39-56

By Roderick Strange

Priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury and Professor of Theology at St Mary’s University, Twickenham

Context: a meditative presentation of the Assumption of Mary for a mixed but fairly articulate congregation, intended to be read quite slowly and reflectively in a tone of voice that suits those listening

Aim: to offer an understanding of a doctrine which, taken in isolation, may be hard to make sense of, but which in the context of her life and our faith becomes much clearer

We know that what we are celebrating today – the Assumption of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, into heaven – is not supported by any neat scriptural text that declares, for example, ‘Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.’ So how are we to make sense of it? Crucially, it cannot be understood in isolation. Let’s go back, first of all, to our fundamental conviction about Jesus as the one who was perfectly faithful in love. What do we mean by that?


We mean that Jesus was perfectly faithful in his love for the Father and his love for us. His fidelity to the Father means that he was perfectly obedient to the Father’s will. His fidelity to us means that he was perfectly at the service of our deepest need. What was the Father’s will for us? That we human beings who have fallen into sin, which is a code word for resistance to God’s love, should be reconciled to him. And what is our deepest need? To be reconciled. And how was that reconciliation to be accomplished? By the revelation of the Father’s love for us. The Word became flesh, the divine Son became human, Jesus was born, to reveal the Father’s unlimited love for us. God’s love for us is without reserve.


How could such a love be revealed? By Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, and supremely by his death on the cross and resurrection to new life. There was nothing he would not do for us, whatever the consequences – even death on the cross – to bring home to us, to reveal to us, the Father’s unlimited love for us. And the heart of Christian discipleship is to respond to that love; in other words, to strive to live in accordance with that love without reserve.


What then are we to say of Mary?


When Mary went to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth, Luke’s Gospel tells us she was greeted with these heart-stopping words: ‘Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’ They capture the essence of Mary’s discipleship.


Let’s remember what we know of her. When invited to become the mother of the Son of God, after questioning the angel, she answered, ‘Let what you have said be done to me.’ And we are told that at Pentecost she was present in the upper room, praying with the apostles. But notice that between those two events, she was constantly being tested. The few episodes in which she appears in the Gospels can indeed be interpreted variously, but they can also be seen as tests.


Joseph, her betrothed, is minded at first to divorce her. In Luke’s Gospel, heavily pregnant, she has to travel from Nazareth to Jerusalem because of the census, so that she gives birth in a stable because there is no room at the inn. When Jesus is presented in the Temple, Simeon warns her that a sword would pierce her soul. Visiting the Temple twelve years later, the boy Jesus remains behind and when she eventually finds him and tells him how worried Joseph and she have been, he is dismissive: ‘Did you not know I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’


At the wedding feast of Cana, when she draws his attention to the lack of wine, he again seems dismissive: ‘Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ Imagine how distressed she must have been when some family members thought he was ‘out of his mind’ (Mark 3: 21). And then there were those occasions when she tried to see him, but he declared that his family were those who heard the word of God and obeyed it. Yet there she was, as he died on the cross, gazing on him with eyes of unfailing love. The doctrine of the immaculate conception, understood, not statically – as a state, conception – nor negatively – as without a stain, immaculate – but dynamically, as a life dominated by loving, is a declaration of that unfailing love.


So, once her life on earth had ended, what could separate her from God? Only one answer seems possible: nothing at all. Therefore, we believe that at her death she was assumed into that state of union with God that was consonant with the perfection of her life of faith and love. She was perfectly redeemed, blessed for believing that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled. Her life is the model of Christian discipleship, a life of love without reserve.


And her assumption proclaims that union with God which is the abiding hope of all of us who try to live lives of faith and love in Christ.

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