I am back in St Thomas More’s for the month of August, always happy to be back with you. It is the one stronghold for me as I spend the year wandering from place to place!
Since we have the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in the middle of the month, and since this year it falls on a Sunday, I am having a small study group on Mary. Most Catholics have a devotion to Mary, but for the young it is very different from that of their grandparents.
When the Vatican Council met they laid down guidelines for the new devotion to Mary, which I believe we still struggle to practice. The older devotions were dramatic, each statue of Mary told a different story, mostly of apparitions in Guadalupe, Lourdes or Fatima. Our devotion to Mary was mostly related to those apparitions and messages.
What the Vatican Council wanted to emphasize was that we should get to know the Mary of the scriptures. Instead of those statues, many churches and homes now have statues of Mary with Jesus. My favorite would be the Pieta of Michelangelo in St Peter’s Basilica. This portrays the sad scene of the mother of Jesus holding the broken, dead body of her son. How can stone tell such a story even more powerfully than a photo?
The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel is one that everyone knows, but how many of those Christmas Cribs relate the full story of the real situation? Mary, still a young girl, without benefit of midwife or women relatives, probably scared stiff and poorly dressed, in great pain tries to give birth in most unsanitary conditions. Whilst it is nice to think of the cattle “lowing” the reality would have been dirt and manure. But this story only goes to emphasize her character – strengthened by suffering and determined to live out her promise to bring the baby into the world. The scriptures describe Mary’s situation very well.
All of this makes us able to understand her prophecy and beautiful prayer, the “Magnificat“ – telling us that God is on the side of the poor and suffering. She knows that before the birth of her Son, and she grows in her faith – so powerfully that she has no hesitation in telling the servants, “Do whatever he tells you!” at the wedding in Cana. No doubt she also has to tell Jesus, “Now don’t you dare let me down!”
We don’t see any scripture telling us about Mary’s Assumption, but it has a long history in the church. Pius XII wanted the feast to show to a world still reeling from the wartime deaths of so many people, that there is hope for us all. With Mary in heaven, she is drawing all her children, all her brothers and sisters with her to life there too.
We have much to hope for, and reason to rejoice in her feast day. It is also the feast day of my beloved Australian Dominicans!