15th August, 2021

Detail from Peter Rubens Assumption

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2021

I think that many of us – including myself – are very pleased that this year we can celebrate this feast of the Assumption of Mary on Sunday. It is a very special day mainly for those of us who have a great devotion to Mary who – as we deeply believe and confess – was taken to Heaven body and soul.

As we know, from the very beginning of Christianity, Mary played an extremely important role in the life of Jesus, then in the lives of His disciples and then in the lives of so many saints such as: Saint Bernadette, Maximilian Kolbe – whose feast we celebrated yesterday, John Paul II, but also today She still plays an important role in the lives of so many people who follow in her footsteps. Perhaps one of the first prayers we learned from our parents was the Hail Mary, and perhaps we regularly say this particular prayer every morning or evening, or maybe even the Rosary or the Angelus. I am convinced that most of us know or at least have heard this beautiful and very popular hymn that we sing in so many languages: Immaculate Mary our hearts are on fire… or another but equally beautiful hymn: As I kneel before you… Of course, there are many other prayers and hymns that we like and sing, but I would like to remind you of something else – something we like very much – our trips and pilgrimages to so many shrines dedicated to Our Lady that are scattered all over the world in so many countries. Lourdes in France, Walsingham in England, Knock in Ireland, Fatima in Portugal, Guadelupe in Mexico, Czestochowa in Poland – these are just some of so many popular places, strongly marked by the spiritual presence of Our Lady.

But let’s try – at least for a moment – to focus our attention and our thoughts on today’s Word of God. I’m sure all of us have noticed that today’s Gospel tells us virtually nothing about the Assumption, and that may seem a bit incomprehensible or even strange to us. Perhaps many of us wonder – especially on today’s feast – how Mary was taken up into heaven? What exactly was this mysterious Assumption of Mary like? Has anybody witnessed this miraculous taking of Mary, the mother of God, into Heaven? I’m afraid no one knows the answer to these questions, no theologian, no priest, no bishop or even the pope can satisfy our curiosity about this. We don’t know what the Assumption looked like, but as we have heard, instead of satisfying our curiosity about the Assumption – the Word of God tells us about something completely different, about a very interesting meeting and dialogue between Mary and Elizabeth. When I read this gospel literally two days ago, I realized that it was in fact a meeting of four people because – as we heard – Mary brought Jesus to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth already having John in her womb welcomed Mary with joy saying words that are familiar to us: Of all woman you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Let us see that it was in fact Jesus’ first encounter with John the Baptist, who – as the Gospel says – leapt for joy in his mother’s womb. So, we can easily imagine how excited Elizabeth and John must have been for this visit. But now let us ask what was Mary’s reaction? We heard about Her reaction in the second part of the Gospel when She said very significant words: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour. As I pondered this passage a while ago, I realized one more thing, that this beautiful hymn – which is called the Magnificat – must have accompanied Mary throughout Her life. It wasn’t something that came to Her mind spontaneously and something She forgot very quickly after this visit. I am sure that this hymn must have been very much present in Mary’s life not only in that one joyful moment when She met Elizabeth. I have no doubts that this hymn, the Magnificat, was present in Her heart a few months later when She rejoiced at the birth of Her son Jesus in Bethlehem. She remembered and prayed with the same hymn when She and Joseph were anxiously looking for Jesus, who as a child was lost in the Temple of Jerusalem. I am sure that Mary remembered this hymn, the Magnificat when She was at the wedding in Cana in Galilee and when they both with Jesus shared the joy of the newlyweds. But I am also pretty sure that Mary remembered and quietly whispered the same hymn Magnificat on Calvary when She cried at that most dramatic moment of her life when She saw Her Beloved Son suffering and dying on the cross, and also when She held His body in Her arms and also when She put that dead body of Jesus in the tomb. She whispered the same words: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour… He has shown the power of his arm. The Almighty has done great things to me. Holy is his name… I am sure that this hymn was always present in Mary’s life, both in all the joyful but also in the saddest and most dramatic moments.

Today, on this great feast of the Assumption, we receive a very special gift from Our Lady, this one simple prayer, the Magnificat. Magnificat anima mea – My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… Let us take this hymn with us because through this particular prayer, our Blessed Mother wants to remind us one very fundamental truth that God is much more powerful than anything else, and for Him nothing is impossible. Holy is his name. Let us follow the example of Mary, who – despite being taken to heaven – remains with us and wants to be present in our families, in the parish in this Lady chapel which we visit so often before or after Mass for our private prayers. Let us ask Mary that, thanks to Her spiritual guidance and intercession, we too may be taken to heaven.

Fr Gregory