Our Personal Gift to Mary
Solemnity of the Annunciation | Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP preaches on the occasion of the Rededication of England to Our Lady.
The person of Mary we meet in the gospel today is a woman of faith and as such she became the first of the believers of the new covenant. Just as the divine voice put Abraham at the head of the of a new and countless people, God’s people of the covenant, so that he is the father of believers in the Old Testament, so Mary is the beginning of the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham and the beginning of actual salvation for all who follow. Throughout the biblical message, the gospel of the incarnation is at the same time fulfilment and new promise. The God of the Bible is always a God who speaks and acts, and Mary is now involved for good in God’s saving action. Of course, Mary was well prepared for this to happen as she had been brought up very close to God. She would have known her Scriptures, psalms and prayers, but as importantly she came from the lowliest social group in Israel known as “the poor of the Lord”. Like many poor people, who we have known through the ages, they were a close community who helped others with what little they had, they wanted nothing for themselves yet relied on God for everything. It is from this background that Mary was chosen to fulfil God’s promise made to Abraham. The hymn known as the Magnificat says the Lord has ‘lifted up the lowly’. Mary’s “lowliness” relativises human ability and produces a strong sense of dependence on human beings and being open to God’s grace.
Mary’s role in the salvation of mankind is characterised by these two things: dependence on others and openness to God’s grace.
God himself became completely human specifically to give us a picture of humanity that is sound and whole. Christ is the representative of the whole of redeemed humanity; he is the new person. Secondly Mary is the first to be redeemed, the first believer and the radically redeemed person in whom everything is done through the fullness of grace. So praise to Mary is always praise to the re-creative power of God’s love and God’s spirit. Only through God’s grace is Mary what she is, the radically and completely redeemed human person – but we too are in that process. Redemption is happening in us, in the same way, by God’s grace. But can we put aside our own stories, become dependent on others and leave ourselves open to God? Yes, is the answer, but it will take us a lifetime, that’s the difference between Mary and us.
God’s work in bringing us to the fullness he desires for us goes on in the here and now. We don’t have to wait to die for it all to happen. Life is not an examination which lets us into eternal glory if we pass. Being human in Christ is an on-going process where possibilities and questions which make us who we are fulfilled by the grace of redemption given as sheer and utter gift. The catch is that it is only in giving ourselves, to and for others that we can be sufficiently open and vulnerable to receive the gift of God. Can you see yourself in this tension? This exchange of giving and receiving which makes you who you are. So, we should ask ourselves: am I selfish and closed in? Am I the type of person who only looks after number one? Or am I the sort who will open up myself to other people and the grace of God. It is terribly risky of course, but then it was for Mary too. It is the only way of being fully human, so that you can take your place in Christ.
Today, or next Sunday, you can be part of the Rededication of England to Mary. The first time England was consecrated to Mary was in 1381 by King Richard II and England and became “The Dowry of Mary”. The re-dedication will be a personal gift of the people of England to the Mother of God. That gift will not be England as such but the faith of the people of this country, as we seek to follow the will of God in our lives.
However, the question that faces every one of us as we make this dedication either individually in our private prayer today or collectively in the cathedrals is whether we are ready to do so. A change in our ways is necessary; like Mary we must be ready to put our own plans aside and be open to God’s grace. But we can be assured that we will not be alone on this journey: Mary’s prayer, ‘that we may worthy of the promises of Christ’ will accompany each of us on the way to her Son.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP from the Slipper Chapel in Walsingham.