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The Assumption of Our Lady
August 15, 2011, 8:39 am
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: ,

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 14th August 2011

We are keeping today the Feast of tomorrow, the glorious Assumption of our blessed Lady, mother of Christ, mother of God-made-man. What is it all about, what can it mean for us?

In 1950, Pope Pius XII expressed the matter simply in these terms: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, was received at the end of her earthly life, body and soul, into heavenly glory.” That is all. Under what circumstances, in what way, with what witnesses- this may be a matter for speculation or even pious legend, but the Church has nothing, officially, to say about it. Mary, like Jesus at his Ascension, passed into heaven in the fullness of her human nature, leaving no part of it behind.

Why do we believe this? Fundamentally, because from the earliest times the Church has believed it, and the Church’s faith is ours. We must be clear about this: the essential meaning of this festival belongs to the realm of faith. We are not dealing with what we might call some “private fact” about the Mother of the Lord, something that merely happened (where, or when, or how we cannot say). We are dealing with something significant, something that the Church sees as having relevance for our own earthly pilgrimage. What might this be? That is what we must ponder.

A fundamental principle of our religion is that God- the God who in himself is unknowable, fully, by our unaided powers- this God reveals himself to us through examples, through things that we can grasp. The whole of creation furnishes us with images and examples through which we can begin to know and understand and love our Creator. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God has given us the supreme Example upon which we should model our lives. In the saints we have further examples of how we may, in our various walks of life, do this in practice.

This is particularly true of Mary. In a sense, she can do and be what even her Son cannot. She is purely a creature, merely a creature, whereas in the ultimate depths of his being Jesus is always the Word of God, “one in being with the Father”, identical to the Creator. This is the mystery of the Trinity: the Father is both Origin and End of all, while the Word and the Spirit are, as it were, his two arms with which he reaches out and embraces the world, and draws it back to himself.

We all fall short of what we can and should be. An important part of Mary’s role in creation is to show us what might be, to show us what is possible when one is totally receptive of God’s grace, totally obedient to his Word. To be created is to receive. Existence itself, the manner of our existence, the purpose of our existence- all this we receive from God as his free gift to us. If we are to look for a complementary principle to that superabundant outpouring of love which is Fatherhood, then it must surely be in the principle of attentive and willing receptivity that “hears the Word of God and keeps it”, and allows God to make it fruitful. If we call this principle “motherhood”, then it is clear that it must always presuppose fatherhood; and it should be clear (should it not?) that the most perfect and complete example of that principle is found in Mary.

Mary is the point at which the Incarnate Word of God makes contact with humanity. Jesus is not simply divine and human in nature: he is actually a member of the human race, linked to us by the same kind of human relationships that link us to one another. As I have often said, theoretically we can all trace our relationship to Jesus, as umpteenth cousin, so many times removed. But Mary is always one degree closer: our human relationship to Jesus passes inevitably through her, historically and biologically, and this is what makes her unique.

In one of his Sermons, St Antony compares our Lady to solid gold cup, encrusted with jewels. What might such a cup contain? Wine, certainly- maybe even the Precious Blood of Christ. A cup exists to hold something, to prevent it being spilled. The more precious the contents, the more fitting it is that the container itself be made of precious material too. And indeed, the more exalted the owner of the cup, the more fitting it is that it should be valuable. Antony compares it to a royal throne, the place where the king sits and from which he rules and reigns.

Mary is the vessel that holds something even more precious than herself. The essential thing about a cup is its hollowness, its receptivity. Without this it cannot function as a container. God looked upon his handmaiden in her emptiness. But a cup can be of material more or less precious: gold represents the personal value of Mary to God, over and above her “usefulness” to him; and that value is enhanced by her purity, the total “unmingledness” of her life, uncontaminated by anything unworthy of God’s love. The jewels that stud the cup are the various virtues that make up the total beauty of her person. Her bodily nature was not something despised by God, to be left behind when she entered heaven. It was the essential instrument with which she fulfilled her vocation of motherhood, and as such it too is valued and glorified by God. Her Assumption, like her Son’s Resurrection, is a pledge of our final state.

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