Most Generous God
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr Leo Edgar relates today’s celebration to Our Lady’s motherhood of the Church and the needs of today.
In the words of Pope Francis: ‘On the cross, Christ led us to Mary!’ and ‘He brought us to her, because he did not want us to journey without a mother’ (Evangelii Gaudium 285-288).
Reflecting on that first miracle of Jesus at the Cana wedding feast, Pope Francis wrote, ‘She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice; she is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us through life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. She constantly surrounds us with God’s love.’
We celebrate Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven.
With these few words, the Church gave its authoritative teaching to the millions who for generations had believed that Mary’s body was incorruptible, but had waited for the declaration to be made by the Vatican.
The doctrine of the Assumption was defined as a dogma of faith by Pope Pius XII on November 1st 1950 in Munificentissimus Deus. While the bodies of the Apostles and martyrs could be preserved and venerated, whereas of the body of Mary, no relic should remain on earth.
However, for centuries preceding the definition as an article of faith, tradition had held that Our Lady’s body had accompanied her soul to heaven in an incorrupt state. And although it may seem strange that it had taken almost two thousand years before the declaration was given by the Church, the understanding was always that Mary was transported, body and soul, to be with Christ when her earthly life had come to an end.
Mary shares with her divine Son the unity of body and soul after earthly life, and in so doing they both help us to anticipate that moment of our own, when our souls and heavenly bodies will once again be reunited at the end of time. This is the wonderful assurance that God has given us through revelation, as well as through tradition, giving us such confidence in the resurrection of the body, and in the re-unification of body and soul in the life to come.
As we celebrate this transition of Our Blessed Lady to be reunited with her divine son, we can be completely convinced of the role she plays as our heavenly mother. In His goodness, God chose his Son’s sinless earthly mother to continue Christ’s earthly ministry, as the Queen of Heaven. But the role of Mary, heavenly mother of the whole human race, and mother of the Eternal King of the Universe, is surely not simply a title that signifies nothing more than a mental impression of Mary’s Assumption into the presence of God, but indicates so much more: it is as a sign of hope for us now in the 21st Century as it has been for two thousand years.
Pope Francis writes about ‘a Marian style’ to the Church’s work of evangelisation. This itself is an indication of how we might contemplate the part that Mary contributes to her divine Son’s mission of salvation. It is, as the Pope describes, ‘Mary’s revolutionary nature of love and tenderness’. In her, the Pope says, we begin to understand that ‘humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves (E.G. 288).
As well as the current effects of a worldwide pandemic, which is bad enough, we are also experiencing a global increase in racism, nationalism and an almost worldwide sense of corruption which so many people hoped would decrease as a result of Covid 19, but appears to have had the opposite effect. Humility and tenderness are in very short supply, not least when wealthier nations need to share the supply of vaccines on a much more global basis with those who are suffering through, perhaps, an excess of misplaced nationalism.
Perhaps this is what Pope Pius XII referred to when reminding us of the full meaning of the document declaring Mary’s Assumption, Munificentissumus Deus, ‘the most generous bountiful God’, the Pope stated that numerous petitions had continually been received from all parts of the church and of the world, begging the Holy See to pronounce the bodily Assumption of Mary as a dogma of faith. The Vatican Council as long ago as 1869-70 had also requested it.
This woman, our Lady, was given to St John by Jesus from the cross to be our mother, Pope Francis writes, ‘walks as a true mother at our side, sharing our struggles and opening our hearts to faith, surrounding us with God’s love’. If the world can recognise Mary as our heavenly mother, we can allow ourselves to be led by her.
In times of trial in the world , Mary has always been close at hand, always sharing the sufferings of her human family on earth. Never was this more evident than when Our Lady appeared to her children at Lourdes, at Fatima and at other Marian shrines, indicating her real concern for the anxieties of Christ’s flock. As she took on the role of our Mother at the foot of the cross, Mary accepted that the whole of mankind needs to turn to her for consolation, seeking her to lead us closer to her divine son. And there is no time better than the present.