Mary is a young, beautiful, pure and humble woman chosen before the beginning of time to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word. This calling is announced to her by the Angel Gabriel who appears to her. Mary, although she has been chosen, could have said no to God’s will; however, it is her profound love of God that allows her to say yes unconditionally. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).
It is clear that the mysteries of the Annunciation and the Incarnation indicate man’s relationship with God. God is our creator and our relationship with him is through our response of loving obedience to his will. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the most perfect embodiment of this relationship between God and man. Through faith, she listens to the voice of God and freely submits her entire being to the plan of God over her life.
The word obey comes from the Latin ob-audirewhich means to hear or listen to. It is Mary’s faith, humility and simplicity that allow her to listen to God and to put his plan into practice.
Today we celebrate the Assumption of Mary into heaven. What exactly does this mystery of our faith mean? In order to answer this question, let us turn to the solemn infallible proclamation made on November 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII.
“In their homilies and sermons on this feast the holy fathers and great doctors spoke of the assumption of the Mother of God as something already familiar and accepted by the faithful. They gave it greater clarity in their preaching and used more profound arguments in setting out its nature and meaning. Above all, they brought out more clearly the fact that what is commemorated in this feast is not simply the total absence of corruption from the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary but also her triumph over death and her glorification in heaven, after the pattern set by her only Son, Jesus Christ.
Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more full conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”
Sometimes people get confused when they do not understand the difference between the assumption of Mary and the ascension of Jesus. Jesus ascended into heaven by his own divine power because he is true God and true man. Mary is human and not divine. Therefore, she is assumed into heaven by God’s power.
The dogma of the Assumption is directly linked to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary was conceived without Original Sin. Since Mary, through a special privilege of grace did not have any sin, including Original Sin, her body did not suffer the normal consequences of death that we do. The Tradition, both of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church maintain that Mary died in the presence of the Apostles. Thomas was not present. When he did join them a few days later, they took him to her tomb. When the Apostles opened her tomb, her body was not present. Moreover, in the subsequent years of Church history, no relics of Mary’s body were ever venerated. However, it is recorded that at one time the veil and the belt of the Virgin Mary were venerated in Constantinople.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary in the womb of her mother was defined as a dogma of our Catholic Faith by Blessed Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854. In the solemn proclamation, the Pope said: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”
As we contemplate the mystery of the Assumption, we also contemplate the tremendous number of challenges in our own country and throughout the world. More and more people tell me that they have stopped reading the news, fearing what they will read next.
True devotion to Mary gives us the answer to all of the challenges of our times: fidelity to God’s will.There will be no solutions to the unraveling and disintegration of everything around us until we all become good disciples of the One who came to save us. Mary is that perfect disciple. As the ever-virgin Mother, she gave birth to the
Incarnate Word, but as the perfect disciple, she gave birth to all of the sons and daughters of Jesus Christ.
As St. Augustine once wrote, “Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ”. Nevertheless, sometimes people seem to have difficulty identifying with the example of the fidelity of Mary. They have the impression that everything was very easy for Mary because she was conceived without Original Sin.
Not everything was clear for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just as in any manifestation of the divine, there is often a profound moment of light followed by long and trying times of darkness. Mary was enveloped in the light of God’s presence during the Annunciation. However this brilliance of clarity was followed by the night of faith. She fulfilled her unconditional yes within the many trials and difficulties of her journey towards eternity.
Pope John Paul II said, “It is easy to be consistent for a day or two. It is difficult and important to be consistent for one’s whole life. It is easy to be consistent in the hour of enthusiasm; it is difficult to be so in the hour of tribulation. And only a consistency that lasts throughout the whole of life can be called faithfulness. Mary’s ‘fiat’ in the Annunciation finds its fullness in the silent ‘fiat’ that she repeats at the foot of the Cross”.
Fidelity is an austere virtue. Fidelity demands self-knowledge, generosity, sacrifice and a lot of courage. Mary is our model of fidelity. The daily struggle and the failures can be overwhelming at times. But, fidelity is an adventure, and the “good fight” is exhilarating. As time goes on, we can become weary of the battle. Personally, I believe it is far better to drag an exhausted body and spirit through the difficulties of life, rather than to give in to the promptings of the flesh which make us yearn for an easier life. Rather than to give in to the sirens of comfort, I prefer to hear these words from my Lord at the moment of death: “I know too that you have perseverance, and have suffered for my name without growing tired” (Revelation 2: 3).
I have much for which to thank the Blessed Mother. Throughout my life she has always been close to me, even though at times I have not always been the attentive son I should have been. Every day I give thanks to my Blessed Mother who has been intimately present in my vocation to the priesthood.
Mary, my Mother, has always been there for me. More than twenty-two years of priesthood have been filled with tremendous blessings and great victories for the Kingdom, but they have been accompanied by much suffering and persecutions. Through it all, Mary has always been there to comfort me, and urge me on to fulfill my mission until the end. I long to see her one day in heaven. When we embrace and kiss, the suffering of the cross will give way to the bliss of the resurrection.
The Assumption of Mary is the oldest Marian celebration within Christianity. As we celebrate this day, we should also remember with profound affection our Orthodox brothers and sisters who celebrate this day as the Dormition of the Theotokos.
Let us pray today and every day that through the intercession of the Theotokos, the walls of theological and nationalistic disputes will be overcome so that unity may be restored fully.
The famous prayer called the Memorare was composed by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153). Let us conclude with his beautiful prayer which has consoled millions of people.
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”
Father James Farfaglia, the Happy Priest, is the pastor of Saint Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Father has a hard hitting blog called Illegitimi non carborundum. He has also published a book called Man to Man: A Real Priest Speaks to Real Men about Marriage, Sexuality and Family Life. You can contact Father firstname.lastname@example.org.