This last Advent Sundays ENTRANCE ANTIPHON proclaims: "let the earth be opened and bring forth a saviour." Good! However, let none of us forget that (i) this has already happened,...
Let us anchor this year’s celebration of South Africa’s Patronal Feast in some words from the
Preface of today’s Mass.
The Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people.“
Now recall what has, over the years, often been emphasised in these reflections –
the Church prays what she believes and believes what she prays. So, the Preface outlinesthe primary and fundamental reason for Mary’s Assumption – that she should be both the beginning and image of the Church’s growth to perfection. In addition her Assumption is a sign of sure hope and comfort for us, God’s People – other, less important in precedence, reasons are mentioned later.
To understand the richness and value of this celebration of Assumption we need, first of all, to focus our attention on the primary reasons. If we fail to do this we impoverish and limit the real meaning of all our devotional efforts – which remain secondary.
In exactly the same way as Mary herself grew into a mature and adult awareness of her role in Jesus’ life so also does the Church. The
Church is coming to perfection. It is not yet perfect. This ‘coming’ is a sharp reminder to us that we, as citizens and members of the Church, are a PILGRIM PEOPLE. This is the reason why we always stand in need of a sure hope on our journey of becoming perfect. My sins and failures limit the Church’s growth to perfection. The Church is always HUMAN and, as such, her coming to perfection is impeded by my human foibles, prejudices and self-proclaimed importance of my own personal preferences. Mary is, primarily, there for the Church and not for me as an individual. I am there for the Church, not for Mary.
However, the Church believes (because she prays this truth) that Mary is for us both
a sure hope and comfort. As humans, struggling on our pilgrimage journey, we stand in need of both the hope and comfort that as another living person has come to perfection so we, too,WILL do the same. We have this sure hope and comfort because Mary tells us that we are capable of eventually achieving what she has managed. We have the ability to do this. This is what we celebrate on the Feast of the Assumption. It follows then that we should, at all costs,avoid turning Mary into some sort of goddess. If she becomes this then she cannot be a sign of any sort of hope and comfort. Saint Paul, in our SECOND READING [1 CORINTHIANS 15: 20 – 27], reminds us of the fact that, as Mary was, we “also in Christ shall be made alive …. but each in his own order.” Mary was made alive by the power of God-in-Christ – nothing else. She achieved nothing on her own.
In addition we should also notice how this second reading provides us with the scriptural foundation for those words of today’s Preface which were quoted at the outset. Read, compare and reflect on both.
OUR FIRST READING [REVELATION 11: 19a. 12: 1 – 6a]
confirms that Mary is “a great sign” of what we and the Church are becoming. In addition, the same reading tells us that “the other sign” is what we, like Mary, have to struggle against. She did it with great success – so can we if we choose, like her, to accept the challenges and difficulties of God’s call.
All of this comes splendidly together when we reflect on the basics of Mary’s superb hymn of praise as recorded in the closing verses of
TODAY’S GOSPEL [LUKE 1: 39 – 56]. These verses, which should be read carefully, communicate Mary’s own clear sense of precedence – her God comes first, and she is acutely aware not only of his call but of his powerful presence in her life. All was begun by the God who acts powerfully in the development, and brings it to completion. Mary understood this. So must we. We achieve little, if anything, on our own. God-in-Christ is the beginning, development, continuation and the end of everything we undertake as disciples. Mary was a disciple – we should never forget or overlook this as we accept that he helps his servant.
Mary’s primary response is to
PRAISE this wonderful and powerful SAVIOUR. However, we all have a need to see the encouragement and challenge suggested by the words which proclaim that “all generations will call me blessed.” Mary has passed on something very personal to the Church down through the centuries. We must also strive to ensure that we pass on something personal and valuable to the Church.
We do not always see and enjoy the harvest of our faithfulness – but we must sow the seed. The Lord, as he did with Mary, brings it to completion.