The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary 

Across Great Britain we find many Churches, Catholic and Anglican, which are dedicated to Saint Mary. This reminds us that the Blessed Virgin Mary is first among the saints, those men and women whose lives have achieved holiness just as we are called to be holy. For the saints, the day of their death is regarded as their birthday into heaven and so that isthe day their feast is celebrated. While the date of her death is of course unknown, in a similar way the feast of theAssumption is St Mary’s greatest feast day among her many feasts. This date may have been originally the anniversary of the dedication of her Church in Jerusalem. That is a sign of the antiquity of this feast, her Dormition as it is known in the East.

Yet Mary has always been regarded as unique among the saints because her Son Jesus was unique, a human who was also the Son of God. From as early as the fourth century, the tradition has been that her body was taken directly up to heaven so that she shares fully in the resurrection of her Son. The first clear reflection on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin would be a homily of St John Damascene in the early eighth century: your body, most pure and without blemish, was not left to the earth but was assumed to the royal heavenly dwelling, you, Queen, Sovereign, Lady, the Mother of God, the true Theotokos.

The Biblical background for the Assumption is found in the letters of St Paul. Like all the New Testament writers, the resurrection of Jesus was key for Paul. His great first letter to the Corinthians begins with the cross and reaches its climax with the lengthy chapter about the resurrection. A few verses from this chapter form the second reading for the feast of the Assumption. The reading begins with Paul’s insistence that Christ has been raised from the dead. Hespeaks of Christ as the first fruits from the dead and then all those who belong to him. First and foremost among those who belong to Christ must be his mother Mary, an ordinary woman who gave birth to Jesus, Son of Mary and Son of God. Christian reflection would soon have connected her Son’s resurrection with her too already sharing fully in his resurrection. Her share in the resurrection, her assumption, therefore must be a sign of hope for all of us as those who believe in the resurrection of the body.

Coming to the Middle Ages, we find that the early Carmelites were interested in the Assumption of Mary. The medieval English Province was dedicated to our Lady of the Assumption just as the British Province is today. There may be no direct evidence but the importance of the Assumption could well have come from the importance of the Resurrection for them. The early Carmelites followed the rite of the Holy Sepulchre for their celebration of Mass which was known forits strong emphasis on the resurrection. For centuries Carmelites celebrated the last Sunday of the Church’s year as a commemoration of the Resurrection, a repeat of the Easter Celebration. It has been said that the Holy Sepulchre was not the tomb in which the Lord was buried but rather the tomb from which he rose. We can associate the Blessed Virgin Mary with this Carmelite emphasis on the Resurrection by celebrating her Assumption into heaven.

Where Mary has gone becomes therefore our hope of reaching the same destination ourselves. Carmelites honour Mary not only as Mother but also as sister. She is the woman of faith, the perfect example of all that we hope and desire for ourselves, the embodiment of all our hopes. We follow the same journey through life as she did, she lights us along our pilgrim way. Her destiny may have been unique as she bore our Saviour but we the Church continue to make our Saviour present to the world. She would have followed the path through life through good times and bad just as we do. She celebrated life with her Magnificat, the Gospel for the feast of the Assumption. As she accompanies uson our journey through this world, so she will be with us at the resurrection of the dead, the return of her Son in glory, handing over the kingdom to God the Father.

And so, as one of the Eucharistic prayers says, at the coming of the kingdom, we will all stand before God, Saintsamong the Saints in the halls of heaven, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the blessed Apostles and all the Saints.

Fr. Patrick Lomard O.Carm

Weekly Reflections

Steps on the Journey - weekly Reflections from Carmel
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