On this supremely joyful feast of resurrection and new life, our Summer Easter, the Assumption of the All-Pure Mother of God body and soul into the glory of her risen Son, we rejoice with superabundant joy over this woman whom William Wordsworth famously called “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” The liturgy of the day exults in God’s design to preserve her immaculate body from corruption, “since from her own body she marvelously brought forth your incarnate Son, the Author of all life.”
What a festival of life this is! A Holy Day of Obligation whose obligation is commanded as one is “commanded” each moment to yet again breathe, for if you wish to live even now in the joy of her risen life, celebrate now this life with her!
Many years ago, circa 1988, I was struggling with “getting” why Mary mattered to me in my newfound life of faith in Christ. It all seemed too distant and irrelevant. I brought this struggle to a retreat at a Trappist monastery. The retreat Master, Fr. Basil Pennington, offered an evening reflection on Mary the first night of the retreat, and I recall so clearly his words:
“Mary was given the singular privileges of being conceived without sin, conceiving and bearing the Incarnate God, and being assumed bodily into heaven. We know that in God’s wise plan, every great gift he gives always comes with a great responsibility, and Mary was no exception. Being chosen, for a Jew, meant being weighted with the burdens of others to help bear them up with love to God. Mary is full of grace, but full for you and for me; she is a vessel of God’s overflowing and particular love for all mankind, and for each man and woman. God gave her each of these particular graces so that she could become a universal Mother to all those who are joined to her Son. So tonight, I want you to ask her, in your time of Vigil prayer, to receive you as a son or as a daughter, and to reveal to you personally her love for you.”
I went back to my room a bit unnerved by this request, but took up his challenge and began to pray with a book on Mary I’d never heard of before, by Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort, and I happened upon this stunning passage:
“She is an echo of God, speaking and repeating only God. If you say ‘Mary’ she says ‘God.’”
For whatever reason, this passage opened in me, around 2:00 a.m., an overwhelmingly intense and very personal awareness that she was present, looking at me with tenderness and raining down torrential grace (that was the image I had). It lasted the rest of the night, and by morning I was absolutely convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that she was, in God’s exquisite plan, my Mother, the summation and overflow of all that is best in redeemed human nature, and that being near her in prayer only left you better, nearer to her eternal Son who made our humanity his own in her heart and her womb.
All this seems to beg for a more fitting conclusion of praise and thanks to God for such a gift, the gift of a Mother whose love is utterly flawless and transparent to God’s own tender and maternal love (Is. 66:13) that humanity seeks out in the love of every human mother. So I will allow an excerpt from the brilliant homily of St. Gregory Palamas on this feast to fill this need:
“Hence, as it was through the Theotokos alone that the Lord came to us, appeared upon earth and lived among men, being invisible to all before this time, so likewise in the endless age to come, without her mediation, every emanation of illuminating divine light, every revelation of the mysteries of the Godhead, every form of spiritual gift, will exceed the capacity of every created being. She alone has received the all-pervading fullness of Him that filleth all things, and through her all may now contain it, for she dispenses it according to the power of each, in proportion and to the degree of the purity of each. Hence she is the treasury and overseer of the riches of the Godhead. For it is an everlasting ordinance in the heavens that the inferior partake of what lies beyond being, by the mediation of the superior, and the Virgin Mother is incomparably superior to all. It is through her that as many as partake of God do partake, and as many as know God understand her to be the enclosure of the Uncontainable One, and as many as hymn God praise her together with Him. She is the cause of what came before her, the champion of what came after her and the agent of things eternal. She is the substance of the prophets, the principle of the apostles, the firm foundation of the martyrs and the premise of the teachers of the Church. She is the glory of those upon earth, the joy of celestial beings, the adornment of all creation. She is the beginning and the source and root of unutterable good things; she is the summit and consummation of everything holy.”