Mary is a pledge of the victory that Christ has won for us on the cross.
This past Sunday, August 13, 2006, was the Feast of the Assumption. Fr. WB preached on this doctrine, under no small amount of pressure, and managed to bring together beautifully some of the soundest principles of Christian Mariology. Enjoy!
Today we commemorate St. Mary the Virgin, the end of her life on earth, and the beginning of her life in heaven. In the Christian West, this celebration is usually called the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary because the tradition of the Church teaches that after Mary died, her soul as well as her body were “assumed” into heaven. The tradition of the Church teaches, in other words, that Mary has already experienced the resurrection of her Body; she has already experienced what all of those who love Christ are destined by him to experience at the end of time. But for Mary it has already happened. If Christ is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1.18), then Mary is the second-born – because she is the present inheritor of God’s promises to all those who have a share, through faith, in the deliverance of Christ Jesus. And as the present inheritor and heir of what has been promised to each of us at the end of time, Mary is an icon of our own selves – though not as we are now – sinful, subject to corruption, and struggling; making slow, painstaking progress in our lives of faith. Rather, Mary is presently an icon of what we will be, by the grace of God, in the future, at the end of time, when our perfection will be completed, even as hers has already been completed, when our deliverance from sin and death will be eternally sealed by the resurrection of our bodies, the loosing of the bonds of physical corruption and decay, to which we and everything in the material universe is presently subjected. As St. Paul says: the last enemy to be destroyed by Christ, is death itself (1 Corinthians 15.26). And when our Lord’s victory over death is sealed by the resurrection of our bodies, at Christ’s second coming, then – but not till then – we too will come into our inheritance – the inheritance of his glory, of divinity, of incorruptibility, and of life everlasting. Then we too will be crowned with glory and immortality, even as Mary has already been crowned (2 Timothy 4.8 & Rev. 12.1).
Mary is a pledge of the victory that Christ has won for us on the cross. Having already fully reaped the benefits of Christ’s passion, having had her redemption sealed in the resurrection of her body, she shows us the grace, the beauty, and the power of an intimate union with Jesus. She shows us our own destiny as children of God and as heirs with Christ of the promises of the Father: Mary shows us what it looks like to be a finite creature wrapped, by grace and faith and love, in God’s very own infinity.
Today we celebrate the receiving into heaven of her through whom Salvation Himself was given to God’s whole creation. The Lord of Life was alive inside of Mary for nine months! How then could she possibly have seen the grave? Or how could the darkness of death possibly have closed over her, when the Light that gives life to the whole world shone secretly and exclusively inside of her body for three trimesters? The Light of Life was carried by her, nourished by her… His own blood, His own divine life, was mingled with hers (John 6.51) in a way unknown to anyone before or since Mary. And even more: Mary was united to Christ as only a mother can be united to her son. She was united to him by the intensity of a mother’s love. When the Magi came to adore the newborn King, Mary saw them adoring her Son, her own baby. And when Jesus hung from the cross, there was one onlooker who saw hanging there something more than a victim of Roman justice, more than a Rabbi, more even than a friend or a master: there was one in the crowd, and only one, who looked at the man on the cross and saw her only Son broken and dying, her own little baby struggling for air. Why do salvation and redemption apply to Mary in a special way? Because she plumbed the depths of the suffering and death of Jesus as only a mother could. And we humans are exalted with him only by plumbing those depths… the depths of his suffering and death (2 Tim. 2.11).
But what difference does it make to you and me that Mary is so special? It makes a difference for two reasons. First, because it reveals something about Jesus. Mary is the Mother of God. But calling her the Mother of God is not so much saying something about her… its really saying something about him of whom she is the mother… its saying something about Jesus. Its saying that he is God. I’ve known plenty of Protestants and Evangelicals who are happy to call Mary the “mother of Jesus,” but can’t seem to bring themselves to call her the “Mother of God.” I want to ask them: what does it mean if Mary is the mother of Jesus, but not the mother of God? It can only mean one thing: that her Son isn’t God. Mary’s exaltation and glory in catholic doctrine and devotion is part and parcel of the greater exaltation and glory of her Son. If it weren’t for Jesus, Mary would just be an unknown Jewish girl from a backwater of the Roman Empire. Its no coincidence that one of the symbols associated with Mary in art and iconography is the moon, which gives off no light of its own, but only reflects the light of the sun. But in fact, it reflects the light of the sun so well, it is the second most luminous body in the heavens.
Mary’s greatness makes a difference first because her exaltation is a reflection of Christ’s greater exaltation. And the second reason her greatness makes a difference is an extension of the first: Mary’s exaltation makes a difference because she is an icon of ourselves. In looking at her, in contemplating her, we see something about ourselves, something about our own relationship with God, about who we are and about who we are called to be in relationship to Christ. Understanding Mary to be the Immaculate Virgin-Mother of God who even now participates intimately in Christ’s own redeeming work – this understanding is an affirmation of what is possible for us through him when we assent with Mary to God’s call to us, when we open our hearts to the overflow of his grace in our lives. When we venerate Mary for her assent to the call of God in her life, we are in some measure assenting to the call of God in our own lives, and we are affirming the gracious possibilities of our own vocations as children of God, as his servants and handmaidens; When we venerate Mary for her openness to the Holy Spirit of God, we are affirming the possibility of the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, enabling us to minister Christ to this broken world, through our assent to God’s call. When we say to God, with Mary, “Be it done to me according to thy Word,” then we become, with Mary, “full of grace” – filled with his grace – then the Light of Christ that is the Life of the world and the glory of God, begins to shine inside of us - then we become bearers of God in the person of Jesus Christ. His grace and his power begin to flow through us, his light begins to shine in us; he suffers himself to be brought by us to others in need of him, to be born of us, to a world groaning for salvation (cf. Te Deum – “thou didst not abhor the virgin’s womb”). Mary’s exaltation – and her ministry as intercessor and advocate – come from her intense love of her Crucified Son. And so it is with us. If we will be heirs of his glory and effective ministers of his gospel, we must be united with Mary in the love of Jesus Christ, her Son. If we are not united to him, we are like moons cut off from the light of the sun: we become cold, dark, and lifeless.
So join with Mary, in prayer. Appropriate her prayer: say to God with her confidence “Be it unto me according to thy Word.” Be united to her in the love of her Son. Contemplate the great mystery of the Incarnation of God through the loving eyes of Mary. Clutch Jesus tightly to your breast, as the Blessed mother clutched him to hers. Sit in prayer with Mary at Jesus’ feet; listen adoringly to his teaching. And most of all, join with Mary at the foot of the cross: enter with her into the agony of her Son. Let the wounds of his love afflict your soul as they afflicted hers. And know that when you love him as your own, then you become his own, then you also become the heir with Mary of the promises of Christ: of his victory, of his immortality, and of his ageless and unsurpassable glory. Amen.