Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

The Assumption of Our Lady
August 16, 2015, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, August 16, 2015

perpetual succour

St Francis of Assisi once composed a prayer to our Lady in which he greets her as Queen and as Mother of God, and then he adds, “You are the virgin made Church,” chosen by the Father, consecrated with the Son and the Holy Spirit. What, I wonder, did he mean by this strange phrase, “virgin made Church”?

The taking-up of the Blessed Virgin into heaven is not simply an interesting and unusual fact about someone peripheral to our religion. It is a “truth of faith”, an aspect of the central mystery of God’s presence among us in Jesus Christ. Catholic faith is “faith according to the whole”, a set menu, so to speak, not one from which we can pick and choose according to our own tastes.

Our Lady is not an “optional extra” in the Christian scheme. The centrality of Christ in God’s plan for the world gives Mary a unique place. The Word of God took flesh as a human being. He did not create his humanity directly out of nothing, any more than he has created the humanity of any of us in that way. Rationalists think that the long processes of nature leading up to the appearance of human beings in the world disprove the Biblical doctrine of creation. Fundamentalists believe that the Biblical account excludes the wonderful discoveries of science. They are both wrong. Catholic Christians know that faith and reason cannot conflict, because both come from God. And so, as God was prepared to form the human body over millions of years before breathing into it the living spirit that makes us images of him, so when he came into the world as a human being, he formed his own body in the womb of Mary, and quickened it with a human soul like ours.

What does this mean? Even at the natural level, it means that each of us- you and I and everyone else- has a blood-relationship with Jesus Christ through Mary. She is the link. If we only knew enough family history, we could trace exactly what degree of cousinship, how many times removed, relates us to Christ, and always Mary would be one step closer to us. Even naturally, we cannot by-pass her.

Even more importantly, we regularly affirm that “we are the Body of Christ; in one Spirit we were all baptised into one Body.” The Bible affirms the common humanity of men and women by depicting Eve as being formed by God from the side of the sleeping Adam (as Pope St John Paul used to point out, from the place nearest to his heart). Christian theologians speak of the Church being formed from the pierced side of Christ, “sleeping” on the Cross. They also speak of Christ as the second Adam, and Mary as the new Eve, implying that there is a linkage between Mary and the Church. She is (as St Francis saw) the “virgin made Church”.

The old prophets spoke of Israel as God’s Bride, his beloved partner in the formation and renewal of the world. But Israel was also the mother, out of whom the Messiah was born. In Revelation, the woman crowned with twelve stars is, in the first instance, Israel in labour bringing forth the Messiah, but for that very reason she is also Mary. Historically, Mary is Israel focussed into a single person, freely accepting her vocation to be the mother of the Saviour, and for that very reason already fully graced with the Spirit of God. As the New Israel is formed, it begins with the Virgin-Mother standing at the foot of the Cross, accepting the beloved disciple as her own son, and accepted by the disciple as his mother. John receives Mary into his own home, and that household becomes the nucleus of the Universal Church, expanding from the upper room and the Apostles, into Jerusalem and all the world.

It is because Mary is the archetypal disciple of Christ, totally receptive of his Spirit, telling us (as at Cana) “Do whatever he tells you”, that the Church is confident that she is equally associated with her Son in the glory of the Resurrection, already enjoying the transfiguration of our bodily nature that awaits all of us. Until the general Resurrection, even after death the rest of us remain a Church in waiting. In Mary alone, united with her Son, the Church has already arrived at its destination. The poet Wordsworth- hardly an orthodox Christian- has expressed it exactly:

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
with the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
our tainted nature’s solitary boast.


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