“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant,” says the Blessed Mother as she is greeted by Elizabeth.
The words open a song of praise which she sings. Mary rejoices in God’s blessings to her and the world that a savior will be born of her. Mary’s song reminds us that God has remembered his people and is giving them life.
The past few weeks we have been hearing from the Bread of Life Discourse in the Gospel According to John. Every three years these readings come up as they are part of the Year B of the three-year cycle. Today we have a special feast, a solemnity, that pauses these readings until next week. While the Gospel passage for this liturgy comes from the Visitation, our liturgy celebrates the Assumption of Mary into heaven.
Mary’s role in salvation should never be minimized. Through her the Son of God took flesh and was born a man. As we have been moving through the past three weeks, Jesus has been inviting us to have faith in him, the Bread of Life. Mary along with Jesus her son become the paradigm of faith.
Our first encounter with Mary in the Scriptures is at the Annunciation. Like the great figures of faith from the life of Israel, from whom she comes, she is invited to take that leap of faith, to place her confidence and trust in God and to participate in his plan for life. The invitation to faith and life that we have been hearing Jesus speak the past two weeks was given to Mary through Gabriel.
Mary’s “yes” or her “fiat” (“let it be done”) is a “yes” to the Father and to the Son. She places her faith in the Father’s plan not only for the salvation of the world but for her role in it. She places her faith in the Son to be conceived and welcomes the one to be revealed as the Bread of Life into her body.
This Sunday we celebrate her Assumption into heaven. Her unique role in salvation entails that she is the first member of the faithful to be taken body and soul to heaven. Her body was home to the Son from the time of conception to birth. She loved, taught, nourished and cared for her Son throughout his life. She was one of the few people who stood by him all the way to the cross. In a real sense, his passion was her passion.
I think any parent who has had a child suffer or die will understand this like no others. The reward of her faithfulness is given with immediacy at her death – being that both body and soul are assumed.
The solemnity we celebrate on Sunday is one of great hope. Mary has always been considered the first member of the church. She stands at the head of all of us. As she is assumed body and soul into heaven we are reminded that we too will have our bodies restored in the end. Her reunion with her Son before our heavenly Father is complete.
In her assumption, we are lifted up in hope. Eternal life has been granted to her and us through her son’s passion, death and resurrection. Her reunion with him in heaven fills us with hopeful expectation that we too will share in that joy.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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