The Catholic Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner once said in an essay about Mary, the mother of Jesus, “If God’s grace is doing in us what it did in her, than we too are blessed by grace, and beloved.”
Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. On this day, Catholics celebrate the time at the end of Mary’s life when she was saved from the ravages of death by the power of God, through her Son, Jesus, and her body and soul – all of who she was – was transformed into her eternal body and brought into the full glory of God.
We sometimes like to say all of that in shorthand, by saying Mary was “assumed into heaven.” Beautiful artwork has depicted the image of Mary being carried on a cloud by angels to the throne of the Trinity in heaven. These beautiful images seek to convey the glorious reality – the mystery – we can’t fully understand.
But we misunderstand this beautiful reality – we might even say we disfigure the teaching – if we think that Mary’s experience was unique among believers.
Rather, the teaching of the Assumption of Mary is a reminder to us – as Karl Rahner’s words remind us – that a life that is lived in grace, openness and response to God and in care of others will end for us as it did for her – in the fullness of God’s glory, that is, in the relationship we have with God and by which God sustains us and leads us – all of us as church – together.
The readings of the day reflect on this mystery that, if we are faithful and attentive to God’s call in our lives – as Mary was – we, too will share in that glory.
The first reading, from the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, offers to us the image of the woman about to give birth, whom scholars say may be a symbol for Jerusalem, Holy Wisdom, as mentioned in the Jewish Scriptures, the church, and, of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus, regarded as the new Eve. The image of the threatening dragon who will devour her son can likewise symbolize the oppressive Roman Empire and their role in the execution of Jesus; it can represent evil in general, or the devil. The narrative – rather than the specific images’ meanings – is what is important: Although real evil threatens us always, God’s plan cannot be stopped. The child is born, protected by God for a life of mission, and the woman is also under God’s protection. Evil is not the last word; salvation is!
Just as a pregnant woman brings forth salvation in the first reading, two women who are pregnant through amazing circumstances, show forth the promise of salvation even before they give birth in the Gospel! Elizabeth and Mary greet each other with awareness of the work of God within them and between them, and Mary belts out a hymn of praise – the Magnificat – which promises that all the evils of a world turned upside-down are simply pathways by which the Mighty God who does Mighty Things will bring about victory for the meek, bestow power on leaders who act as servants, bring the hungry at last to the table, and widely show mercy! God’s grace in action makes the upside-down world right-side up again.
It is both because of Mary’s place in God’s plan, and her courageous, humble and compassionate response, that we are here to live our faith in Jesus Christ, and why we honor her, as the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer at today’s liturgy says so well … “as the beginning and image of [God’s] church coming to perfection, and sign of sure hope and comfort to [God’s] pilgrim people…”
May we pray today that God’s grace in us will do what it did for Mary.
God give you peace!
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As Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I have the opportunity to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.