Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On Thursday, August 15, Holy Mother Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holy Day of Obligation. Approaching the solemn day from another perspective, each of us have an opportunity to be recharged through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by the Word of God in the readings of Sacred Scripture and Our Lord, Jesus Christ in His Real Presence in the Most Holy Eucharist.

When we speak of Mary’s Assumption into the glorious Kingdom of Heaven, we’re talking about a dogma of our Christian faith which comes from our Sacred Tradition and has been celebrated in the Universal Church’s liturgy throughout the centuries from ancient times even before its solemn definition by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950. Throughout the centuries, devoted Christians have always believed and understood that Our Lady, at the completion of her earthly life, was given a special privilege when she was assumed into heaven. Taken body and soul together in order that she would share in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection.

Mary’s complete personhood was taken up into the glorious kingdom. And from that moment on, Our Lady shares in her only Son’s victory as the power of Jesus’ Resurrection is immediately played out when her earthly life was completed. The Lord God spared Mary’s body from corruption and decay when she was assumed into Heaven just as he spared her from original sin and its effects at the beginning of her life through her Immaculate Conception.
The Most Blessed Virgin Mary is the first recipient of what will be granted to us at the end of time when the dead will be resurrected.

Our bodies will be reunited with our immortal souls. It will be an eternal gift that we will look forward to, living forever in Heavenly paradise, body and soul praising our Heavenly Father for all eternity.

Speaking With Jesus’ Mother and Our Mother

This Monday, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the glorious event in which Mary becomes the Mother of God by accepting the message from the Archangel Gabriel through her our Savior will be born. At that moment, the divine Son took on human nature for our salvation and our glory. It is a good occasion to reflect upon the most common way in which we likewise approach Mary, the prayer that begins with Gabriel’s words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

The Hail Mary prayer begins with an address to Mary that is drawn from both Gabriel’s initial greeting and the words Elizabeth spoke at the Visitation in greeting Mary, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed in the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” By joining with Gabriel, we likewise are united with the angles themselves in asking Mary once again to bring the love of Jesus to the world. And then, in repeating the words of Elizabeth, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” we join with her in welcoming Mary and Jesus into our homes and neighborhoods.

By the mid-eleventh century, it was becoming common among monks and nuns to join these two phrases together during their daily prayers to have a sense of joining with the angels and saints to honor Mary as the one who brought Jesus Christ into the word at the Incarnation. There was a sense that, in honoring Mary, we are joining with her in bringing Christ into the world today. Many devout members of the laity also took up this practice, sometimes repeating this salutation 50 times, a practice that became the basis for the rosary.

In the 15th century, the faithful began adding the petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” And, in 1566, the Church’s official Roman catechism endorsed this additional petition, which focuses our attention on the two most important times of our lives, the present moment and the time of our death. For, while the past is fixed and the future unknown, we have in the present hour the freedom to respond to the grace of God; and our response should reflect our final goal, namely that by the end of life, we will be able fully to receive and give that divine love. And, by honoring Mary and invoking her prayers, we ask her to guide and help us to make the present moment always reflect the glory of God, so that when our time comes we will, with her, enter into the light of Jesus forever.

Beginning the New Year With Mary

On Tuesday, we begin the new year by honoring Mary as the Mother of God. And it is only fitting to begin this and every year by celebrating Mary, the new Eve, who began the new age of grace with her most pure life and complete openness to the will of God. This celebration is a helpful occasion to discuss what we mean by saying Mary is the Mother of God and the implications of this teaching.

In 431, the Council of Ephesus definitively proclaimed that is the Mother of God. Just before that time, the Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople denied that Mary should be called the Mother of God; rather he said that Mary should only be called the Mother of Jesus the Christ. For he believed that the divine Son of God and the human Jesus Christ were two completely separate people, with the human Jesus fully open to the Son, but not truly united at the core. And so he maintained that the divine Son of God was not truly born upon earth, nor lived and earthy life, nor died upon Calvary nor rose from the dead, nor is with us in the Holy Eucharist. In response, under Pope Celestine I and the Emperor Theodosus II, the Church called a great Council at Ephesus, the city where Mary lived with John the Apostle at the end of her life. Led by the great theologian St. Cyril of Alexandria, the Council declared, with the Pope’s approval, that it is a matter of Catholic faith that one person, the Son of God has both the divine nature of the Trinity in eternity and the human nature of Jesus Christ beginning at the Incarnation. Thus, the divine Son of God, through His human nature, was born, lived, died, rose again, and is with us until the end of time. And thus also the Church affirmed that the divine Son of God truly had and has for all time Mary as His mother.

And because we are, by adoption brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, Mary is also our mother. Likewise, because the Church is the body of Christ, Mary is rightfully called mother of the family of God that is the Church. As with all families, there will be shortcomings, disagreements and struggles. But, as with all families, our mother Mary gathers us together for joyful prayer and good works, especially at the holy Mass. And one day she will gather all the faithful from every time and place to the city of her Son, the heavenly Jerusalem, and we hope on that day to say with Mary forever, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46-47.
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The Rosary As The School of Mary

This Sunday is the usual day for the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.

And even though the readings and prayers for Sunday take precedence over those of a Memorial, it is a good occasion to reflect upon this devotion. The rosary was developed during the High Middle Ages as a way of praying the Hail Mary or Our Father 50 or 150 times, partially to join with the practice of monks and nuns, who prayed all psalms a week as part of their vocation. People would use beads to keep track of the prayers. And gradually these prayers were organized into 15 groups (now called decades) of one Our Father, 10 Hail Mary’s, and a Glory Be.

These groups soon became associated with the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, which reflect respectively the early life of Jesus, His sacrifice on Calvary, and then the Resurrection and its effects. As time went on, people added the Apostles Creed, an Our Father, and three Hail Mary’s to enter into this meditation, and the Hail, Holy Queen to conclude it. In 1571, when as the Ottoman Empire threatened an invasion by sea, Pope St. Pius V called upon Europeans to pray the rosary for the Christian fleet protecting Europe. When the Christian fleet under Admiral Don John of Austria won a decisive victory on October 7, 1571, Pope St. Pius V established October 7 as the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, which it is to this day.

When Our Lady appeared to the children in Fatima in 1917, in the midst of world wide war, she called for them to promote praying the rosary to bring about conversion and peace. And she added a request that a prayer, now known as the Fatima prayer, be added to each decade. In his 2002 apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, St.Pope John Paul II built upon this venerable devotion by adding the Mysteries of Light to meditate on the public life of Jesus from His first miracle at the wedding of Cana to the Holy Eucharist He gave us on the night before He died. In so doing, he made the rosary a more complete reflection upon the entire Gospel. As St. John Paul II pointed out at that time, in praying the Rosary, we are not merely repeated the same words. Rather, the repeated prayers serve as a sort of bridge through which we can enter (with the help of Mary) into contemplation of the mysteries of our salvation.

As he wrote, , “With the rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of His love.”

Mary’s Assumption and Our Home

On Wednesday, the Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. It is thus a fitting occasion to conclude the series of reflections upon great events of Mary’s life and lessons for us with a discussion of the Assumption. In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared it to be a matter of divine and Catholic faith that, at the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. Jesus likewise ascended body and soul into heaven. For the rest of humanity, with possible exceptions such as Moses and Elijah, death involves a separation of body and soul, a separation that leaves the soul incomplete until the culmination of all things on earth at the general resurrection. As a result, the saints in heaven are united with us, know us and pray for us; but the unity is imperfect. There is perhaps an analogy to people who live at a distance and can communicate by technology, but not in person. By contrast, Mary is more with us on earth because she has a glorified body, a first promise of the glory and unity of all peoples in eternal light.

Now reigning in heavenly majesty, Mary joins together the glory and splendor of a queen with the personal love of a mother. A few weeks ago, the world watched the wedding of Prince Harry and Princess Meghan of Great Britain; they do not actually have a great deal of power, but the world’s fascination reflects a desire for celebrating the glory of royalty. Never was there such a celebration of royalty as when Jesus ascended into heaven, and then later welcomed His great Queen Mother to be with Him in eternal splendor.

And with the celebrations of the Assumption and the Queenship of Mary on August 15 and 22 (renewed in the final two mysteries of the rosary) we join in that wondrous joy. However, Mary’s exalted status does not make her remote from us. Rather, united body and soul, she joins with us as a mother in every town and country on earth, as she shown in her apparitions such as at Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, and Knock. She thus helps make our homes new Bethlehems and new Nazareths where the glory and love of God dwell on earth. And we look forward to crowning of all the faithful and all areas of earth in the final resurrection.

In venerating Mary on earth, we look forward to joining with all of God’s people throughout time and space and hearing from Jesus, “Welcome, my friend. My mother has had so many good things to say about you.”

Mary at the Cross

This week, we resume reflections upon the life of Mary and lessons we can draw for our own life with Christ. Having covered the public ministry of Jesus, we now turn to the most sorrowful event, which led to our salvation, the Crucifixion, and Mary’s place at the foot of the Cross.

As the Gospel of John records, Mary was at the Cross with John at her side. John had initially fled when Jesus was arrested. But Mary gave him the courage to return and be with Jesus in this horrific time. Seeing Mary and John, Jesus said, “Behold, thy Son.” Alone these words could have been a poignant expression of sympathy at His mother’s plight, seeing her only Son die for the sins of humanity. But then He turned to John and said, “Behold, thy mother” indicating that John was to consider Mary as his mother, which he did receiving her into his home. (This entrustment of Mary to John helps demonstrate that she did notave children other than Jesus; for if she had other children, they would have been the ones to take care of her.

The Gospel references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus likely meant his cousins, for ancient Jewish culture used the same term for many levels of relationship.) Even as Jesus was suffering the greatest human torments, He was beginning to proclaim the new family of God on earth, as He showed the first promise of salvation by forgiving the repentant thief with the words, “You will be with Me this day in paradise.”

We are all called to be with John, and thus Mary and Jesus, amid the struggles of this life. For, as with John, we can take courage from Mary’s presence to face difficulties in the world, knowing that Jesus will bring salvation from them. As with Mary and John at the Cross, there are many problems that we cannot fix. But as they did, we can bring the love of God to people by our prayers and concern for them. And we know that, in the midst of struggles, our mother Mary is with us. As Jesus called Mary the mother of John, so He wants her to be a mother to all of us, and to the whole Church, in joys and sorrows, in hopes and fears. And, as the Crucifixion was the preparation for Easter, so Mary’s maternal love for us and the nations in sorrows and suffering prepares for the wondrous gathering of all nations into the family of God.

Mary and the Public Ministry of Jesus

In the final episode of the Downton Abbey series, Lady Rose gives advice to Lord Robert Crowley, who has difficulty letting his wife take over more responsibilities in leading a hospital. She tells him, “Sometimes, to keep something, you have to let it go.”

Our Blessed LadyAs we continue in these reflections upon the life of Mary, we come to the time when Mary had to let go as Jesus went off to His public ministry. As the Gospels of Mark and Luke record, there was at least one time (and probably several others) when Mary and Jesus’ other relatives wished to come to Him, but He could not see them because He was ministering to the crowd. Jesus used the occasion to declare, “Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35.

Mary understood that her own desires, as holy as they were, had to give way to Jesus’ plan to bring the family of God to all people. Now that Jesus has risen from the dead with a glorified body, He is no longer confined to one place at a time. Through the Church, and especially through the Eucharist, He is with us throughout the world until the end of time. Nevertheless, it can sometimes seem that He is not present to us in prayer or in our actions. Sometimes prayer can seem dry and not lead to any sense of His presence. And sometimes our best efforts do not appear to bear much fruit.

For example, as recounted in the recent biography Come Be My Light, Mother Theresa was at first frustrated in carrying out the plans for a new order Jesus had given her; and then, after the order was established, there were years on end during which she rarely felt His presence in prayer. But she persevered all the same, coming to accept the fact that such disappointments were part of her vocation to join in the struggles of others.

In such occasions, we know that Mary is with us in our courageous and steadfast dedication. Faithfulness and dedication during times when we do not obtain the rewards we would like are often God’s most powerful means on making our faith more firmly grounded upon the pure love of God. Upon this solid foundation of humble faith, God then builds up great accomplishments that are free of self-interest and more a work of love.

For as Jesus says in the Beatitudes, ”Blessed are the humble of heart, for they will inherit the land.” Matt 5:5

The Wedding Feast of Cana and the Springtime of Grace

This week we resume the reflections upon lessons from the life of Mary and in particular focus upon the wedding feast at Cana. See John 2.

After Jesus’ baptism and 40 day preparation in the desert, some disciples joined Him knowing that He could give them truths from heaven. When Mary attended a wedding in Cana in Galilee, she asked Jesus and His disciples to join her and the family.

In that era, Jewish wedding feasts lasted for up to a week; and sometime during that week, the wine started to run short. Mary, ever attentive to the needs of others, brought the problem to Jesus. Jesus seemed at first reluctant to perform a miracle, saying that His hour had not yet come. As the great American evangelist Fulton Sheen described, Jesus was pointing out to Mary that, if she asked for this miracle, His public ministry would begin, and with it His way to Calvary.

Mary did ask for the miracle, saying, to the waiters “Do whatever He tells you.” Jesus then had the waiters fill with water large jars that were meant for washing and take it to the head waiter. The waiters, probably thinking that it was complete folly or a joke, did so all the same.

Likely worrying about the wine situation and not knowing what has just been happening, the head waiter was astonished to taste this former water, which Jesus had made the best of wine. Thinking that the families have been hiding their best wine, he sought an explanation from the groom, who was himself as puzzled and happily surprised as the head waiter. This miracle, which joins Marian and family devotion, compassion, humility and even humor, launched Jesus’ public ministry. In this event, we can see God reversing the Fall and original sin.

Instead of Eve’s attentiveness to the serpent and temptation, Mary teaches us to be attentive to families and the needs of others. Reversing the failure of Adam and Eve to turn to God in prayer when they were being tempted and then when they sinned, Mary shows us how to turn to Jesus and be willing to abide by His instructions, knowing them to be the path (often in mysterious ways) to great joy.

Making up for Adam’s weakness and failure to resist sin, Jesus clarifies the issue for Mary, and then is willing to perform, in a subtle way, the miracle she requested. Revering the cooperation in sin, and then conflict in blame, of Adam and Eve, the new Adam and Eve cooperate for a new couple. And, if we are willing, they will also cooperate together for our families and the family of God to bring forth a new springtime of grace.

Finding Jesus in the Temple and In Our Lives

As we continue the reflections upon lessons we can draw from the life of Blessed Mary, we come to the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple, which we also celebrate as the fifth joyful mystery of the rosary. As described in the Gospel of Luke, the Holy Family attended Passover every year in Jerusalem, as was custom for pious Jews. When on such pilgrimages, men and women travelled in different caravans, which then joined together in the evening; young boys travelled with their mothers, while older boys travelled with the men. When Jesus was twelve, His parents left Jerusalem after the Passover, but He stayed behind, listening to the teachers and asking them questions.

When they set out, Mary and Joseph both thought that He was in the other caravan, and only discovered the mistake in the evening. They rushed back to Jerusalem and discovered Jesus in the Temple, astonishing the scholars by His understanding. Jesus seemed puzzled that His parents did not understand that He had to remain in the Temple this time. Mary pondered over these things as Jesus returned with them. He obeyed His parents and “grew in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man.” Luke 2:52.

From this poignant event we can draw several lessons about humility. First, if even Mary and Joseph were surprised at the way in which Jesus prepared for His ministry, we also should expect to be surprised by the ways in which God works in our lives. Planning is important, but we should also be willing to adapt our ideas to new situations and realize that disappointments are often God’s way of pointing us in new directions. And if even Mary and Joseph continued learning from Jesus, we should be constantly pondering over His plans for us. From the standpoint of Jesus, we recognize that even He grew in wisdom in His human nature, learning from His parents and the scholars of the Temple.

Learning new things can involve struggles, but Jesus joins us in the effort. And if even He obeyed His parents, surely we should see obedience to rightful authority, not as a burden, but as an opportunity to be open to the will of God. In all ways, humility of heart makes us more able to grow into the people whom God wants us to be, rather than being limited to our plans and expectations.

Mary, The Church and The Holy Spirit

This week, we resume the reflections on the lessons we can draw from Mary’s life and how she received and shared the life of Christ. Because this Sunday is Pentecost, we will skip ahead of the usual order and consider Mary’s presence with the early Christians at that glorious event when the Church was made manifest to the world. Pentecost was, and is, a great Jewish feast that occurs seven weeks after Passover, celebrating God’s appearance at Mount Sinai and the giving of the law through Moses.

And so, on the fiftieth day of Easter, as Jews and other people of good will were gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost, Mary, the Apostles, and about 110 other Christians were there in the same upper room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. See Acts 1:15, 2: 1. As they prayed together, the Holy Spirit came upon them under the appearance of a great rushing wind and tongues of fire that rested above their heads but did not burn them.

Inspired by this glory and power, these early Christians went forth into Jerusalem and proclaimed the Gospel, which people from nations around the known world heard, each in his own language. About 3,000 people joined the Christian faith that day. See Acts 2:5-41. As St. John Paul II put it in his 1986 encyclical Dominum et Vivificantum, the Church “has never left [the Upper Room.]

Spiritually the event of Pentecost does not belong only to the past: the Church is always in the Upper Room that she bears in her heart.” For to this day, in the Church, we gather as many different people, from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences, of all ages and personality types, celebrating each other’s gifts and united in our common goal.

With Mary as the one mother of the human race, and Holy Mother Church as the one institution that gathers people from every time and space, we are united in our common worship, teachings, community and works of charity. But that unity does not mean that individuality is suppressed.

Rather, as the one sun and common rainfall bring forth different types of food and produce all over the world, our common Savior, our common faith, our universal mother, our prayers and efforts together make each of us the son or daughter of God that we are called to be in the heavenly Jerusalem where the best of all nations will walk in the light of the Lamb. See Rev. 21:24-26.