Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption - Sunday Reflection
Posted: Tue, 10 Aug 2021 14:00
It is wonderful that we can come together on this Sunday to celebrate the feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Mother. It always means so much to me, as I learnt a valuable lesson about Church holidays in hospital cafeteria many years ago. I had spent the morning celebrating mass in the hospital chapel and then taking communion to patients across the vast campus; on my travels I met staff who wanted 'the bread of life too'. It is fair to say that I had gained many steps as I sat down to what I considered to be a well-earned lunch. A doctor came and sat with me; as we chatted, he observed that he had seen me all over the hospital that morning as he completed his rounds. I tried my best to explain why this day was important: why people wanted to go to mass and why his colleagues wanted to take communion—it was, after all, a 'holiday of obligation'! It is amazing how we Catholics understand our 'church language' but expect others to do so too. I got a big dose of reality when my doctor friend burst out laughing, 'how can a holiday possibly be an obligation?' It turned out that he was Jewish, and he had a deep understanding of the concept of religious holidays; he made me realise that our Christian holidays were instituted to give ordinary working people a chance to celebrate beyond the ordinary. I realised, for the first time, that a 'holiday of obligation' was not just about going to mass, but it must include an element of celebration and joy. I went back to the parish that night for mass and encouraged the congregation to join me, afterwards, in the local ice cream parlour. After a celebration of Eucharist, we moved to continue the community experience in a fun way. I have moved on from that parish, but friends tell me that the simple tradition of going to 'Cabot's' after mass on the 15th of August still continues.
The need to celebrate today is important as we remember the gift of Mary to our Church. Christian tradition from the earliest times sees Mary falling asleep at the end of her life and being taken directly in the fullness of God's love that we identify as 'heaven'. Mary is that one who, literally, brings the Messiah into the world. Her concern and deep love for God and others is seen in her actions. Our Gospel today has Luke's account of the Visitation; in her typical style, on hearing that she is to be the mother of the Saviour, she reaches out to Elizabeth. As an older woman, she will need help and support during her pregnancy: in the meeting of these expectant mothers, we have another meeting of new lives in the womb. Elizabeth can express the utter power and joy of meeting the Messiah: 'for as soon as I heard your greeting, the baby within me jumped with gladness' (Lk 1:44).
Mary's response is to use the prayer of Hannah (see 1 Sam 2:1-10) in response to this loving outpouring of greeting. In her Magnificat, Mary offers a vision of change and transformation that she attributes to God alone: 'the great things the Mighty God has done for me. His name is holy' (Lk 1:49). While we, rightly, challenge God in the bad times, but do we give outpourings of thanks when life is good? Mary sees that the way of God does not always match up to what we would want or like. Society can tell us that we are judged by how much money we make, what kind of car we drive or what house we live in, but Mary asserts true humility and a living faith:
He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. (Lk 1:51-53)
With Jesus, we see a new world order where everyone is counted and deemed important. Today we remember that Mary never exults herself and will not build herself up in a false sense of humility. Mary offers a welcome to Elizabeth and all those like her who are on the periphery: in his mission, Jesus made this a reality. Who are you praying for and inviting to join us at Church online or here in the Church building? Do you still have that passion to include all at the table of the Eucharist? Do you want the Church to be a living and relevant community of faith as we move away from the horrors of a global pandemic? Let us continue to be active in sharing our faith and be ready to help other people come to know Jesus. We should 'be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect'
(1 Pt 3:15).
Our tradition tells us that Mary is fully at home with God in heaven: she lived life to the full and now enjoys the fullness of resurrection. Even in the pain, suffering, abandonment and death on Calvary Hill, new life comes on Easter Day. We are called to share that fullness of life too: the gift of heaven is ours too. We pray, probably daily, in the 'Our Father' that 'thy kingdom come on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN.' We cannot offer spiritual 'pie in the sky'; like the gift of Incarnation, our Church needs to be grounded in reality. Mary lived that reality, being forced to make difficult choices and difficult journeys. She believes in the covenant promise of a God who is always faithful—even if we are not. She stands as the sign of loving peace and real justice in a confused and, sometimes, bitter world; she is the voice of common sense who still points to her Son and urges each of us to 'do whatever he tells you' (Jn 2:5).
So, enjoy your mass, and sharing on this special holiday of obligation. Remember my Jewish friend who advised me to truly celebrate the feast; why not enjoy an ice cream, cheeky cuppa, chocolates, or anything else that you will enjoy. A very happy feast-day.
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
Image: Our Lady's Assumption into Heaven, from St Michael and St Gudula's Cathedral, Brussels.