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The Assumption or Dormition of Mary Reveals the Fullness of Redemption

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Mary’s response reveals the meaning of life. We were made to give ourselves away to the Lord who has given Himself to us – in a Holy exchange. He comes and abides within us. Through Baptism we enter into a new way of living in His Body, the Church. Living in that Church we are called to continue His redemptive mission by giving ourselves in Him for the sake of the world. An early father of the undivided Christian Church, Gregory of Nyssa, once wrote – What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for ‘we no longer know Christ according to the flesh’, but He dwells in us spiritually and the father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us.

The Assumption or Dormition of Mary. It is not just about Mary. It is also about all of those who say Yes to Jesus Christ. We will experience the fullness of redemption in the Resurrection of the Body and life in the coming Kingdom.

On August 15 in the Liturgical Calendar of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church we celebrate the great Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Orthodox Christian brethren also acknowledge the same great Feast but refer to it as the Dormition of the Mother of God. Some join with us in the celebration on this calendar date. Others follow the Julian calendar and commemorate it in a few days.

The Feast is very ancient. It is also of profound importance – for reasons which sometimes are not fully understood. This event is a part of the naturally supernatural progression in the life of the Blessed Virgin of Nazareth. Her Yes, her Fiat of surrendered love, brought heaven to earth. She first responded to the invitation of God given through the Angel. In our popular piety we refer to this event as the Annunciation, the announcing of God’s plan. (Luke 1:26-38)

That exercise of her own human freedom forever changed all human history. She assented to be the Mother of the Lord Jesus, the Savior of the whole world. It opened her up to the glory of heaven. That glory not only came to dwell within her, but she cooperated with grace throughout her whole life. That same loving God who invited her response in the message of an Angel and received her responses throughout her life, received her, body and soul, into heaven.

Mary is thus meant to be the sign and promise of the Church’s future. She also provides the pattern of the Christian life and vocation for all of us. All who will say yes to her beloved Son – and live their lives in that kind of surrendered love – can bear Jesus Christ for the world. They are joined with Mary now – and will join with her in the fullness of that communion of love which she now enjoys in eternity.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In those few words, all of human history was changed. As we make those words our own, our own histories will begin to change as well. We are invited to give our own assent of freedom to God’s loving invitations of grace.

The Angel proclaimed that Mary was full of grace, filled with the very life and presence of God. She walked in a deep, abiding and intimate relationship with God. He was with her before she even responded to His invitation. God chose Mary, even before Mary chose God. This order is vitally important.

Mary’s Prayer, her Fiat (Latin, let it be done) was a response to the visitation from the messenger of heaven, the angel. It also provides a pattern of prayer for every Christian. It unfolds into a life of praise, her ‘Magnificat.’ This canticle begins with the words in Latin ‘Magnificat anima mea Dominum‘ (‘My soul magnifies the Lord‘) and is the Gospel text for the Liturgy during the day on this Feast. (Luke 1:46-55).

The Fiat is more than a prayer and the Magnificat more than a hymn of praise. Together they constitute a lesson book, a guidebook, for how we can live our own lives. This lesson book is desperately needed by contemporary Christians in an age characterized by pride and arrogance, deluded by self-worship and imprisoned by the idolatry it all produces.

The pattern of the life of Mary, the first disciple of the Lord, reveals a trajectory of surrendered love. If we embrace the mystery and meaning of Mary, we will find the meaning of our own lives. We were created out of Love, in Love and for Love. As the beloved disciple John, who stood with her at the Tree of the Cross, reminds us in his first letter, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 Jn 4:16)

Mary said Yes to the invitation to participate in the communion of God’s love. She confronted her own fears and entered into a new way of living; so must we. Christians use the word mystery in a manner quite different than the contemporary west perceives the word. Christian ‘mysteries‘ are not puzzles to be solved, but gifts to be received, in faith.

The Greek word mysterion (later translated sacramentum in Latin) is still the preferred word used for the Sacraments in the Eastern Church, Orthodox and Catholic. They are mysteries of our faith. It is in that light that Mary is also viewed as a mystery; she reveals the very heart of that faith and its inner dynamic. She also teaches us the meaning of our own lives. Like her, we are invited into communion with the Trinitarian God, in and through Jesus Christ.She shows us the way.

Mary lived a life of receiving and giving and giving and receiving. She has been called from the early centuries the God-bearer or Mother of God (which in Greek is Theo-tokos). She brought forth the Word of God. Her Fiat, her humble surrender, led to her Magnificat. Thus she becomes a prototype, showing us the vocation of every human person who says Yes to God’s loving invitations of grace.

Mary’s response reveals the meaning of life. We were made to give ourselves away to the Lord who has given Himself to us – in a Holy exchange. He comes and abides within us. Through Baptism we enter into a new way of living in His Body, the Church. Living in that Church we are called to continue His redemptive mission by giving ourselves in Him for the sake of the world. An early father of the undivided Christian Church, Gregory of Nyssa, once wrote:

“What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for ‘we no longer know Christ according to the flesh’, but He dwells in us spiritually and the father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us.”

When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, she bore within her the Incarnate Word of God as a living tabernacle of love. (Luke 1:38-45) Jesus, the Redeemer in the womb, was already saving the world and Mary, his chosen mother, was already His first disciple. This little Virgin from Nazareth not only experienced the great miracle but became herself a vehicle of grace for others.

Is it any wonder that the early Christians painted her image in the catacombs during their moments of fear, persecution and doubt? They found great inspiration from this little woman of great faith. In her yes they came to understand that ordinary people can change human history. They were inspired to add their own yes, their own fiat to hers.

Justin Martyr and many other early Christian apologists found in her fiat, her obedient Yes to the invitation angel, the undoing of the noI will not serve – given by the first woman Eve. In one of her very first titles, they called Mary The Second Eve, the mother of the new creation.

In her womb she carried the One whom the biblical authors would call the New Adam. He was born from her as the first born of a new race of men and women who would find a new birth and a new of living and dying, and living again, through His Incarnation, Conception, Nativity, Life, Death and Resurrection.

That same Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, now resides within – and lives His Risen Life through – all those who respond to the invitation of Love, as Mary did. Mary’s choice, her response to the invitation of a God who always respects human freedom, is a singularly extraordinary event in all of human history because it changed history forever. However, it is much more.

It is an invitation to each one of us to explore our own personal histories and to write them anew in Jesus Christ. Mary is a mirror, a reflection, of Some-One, Jesus Christ, her Beloved Son,the Eternal Word sent from the Father who became the Incarnate Word within her. The Savior whom she was privileged to bear for the sake of the world filled her with His grace.

Each one of us, now baptized into Him, is also called to become, in a real sense, full of grace. We are invited to empty ourselves and be filled with the very life of God. The Lord desires to come and take up residence within us and be borne into a world that hungers for His love. Mary shows us the way. She heard the promise, believed, was filled with grace, and conceived the Lord who is Love incarnate.

We can do likewise if we learn to pray, to listen, to hear, and to respond with our own Yes, living our lives in surrendered love. Years ago, I wrote a book of reflections to help Christians of other communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, to more fully discover this gift of Mary for us all. It is entitled The Prayer of Mary, Living the Surrendered Life. The Assumption or Dormition of Mary is not just about Mary. It is also about all of those who say Yes to Jesus Christ. We will experience the fullness of redemption in the Resurrection of the Body and life in the coming Kingdom.

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By Deacon Keith Fournier









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1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Wow, this article goes on and on and on with how wonderful Mary was, but what is the source for all this information? Mary’s virgin birth is unknown to Paul and Mark, invented by Matthew, embellished by Luke, ignored or voted against by John, and written out of the story by Acts.
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    This Virgin Mary stuff is so strange to me – even as a Catholic kid, I didn’t really care much for her because reciting Hail Mary’s was usually a form of punishment or penance. I even recall in a Catholic summer camp being punished with the rest of my cabin mates for lord knows what, by having to walk up and down the hallway on corrugated mats on our bare knees while reciting the rosary… no Mary was not my friend, but I could recite that rosary faster than greased lightning. One breath per prayer.

    Let’s look at the “virgin” Mary story in chronological order. Paul knows nothing at all of Jesus’ birth, parents, family, baptism, ministry, disciples, miracles or sermons – nothing at all. For Paul, Jesus is a celestial being. Paul wrote in the 50’s CE. The first gospel written, practically all scholars agree, was the Mark gospel (about 70 CE), and he knows nothing of Jesus’ birth circumstances. The “virgin” thing wasn’t so maniacally important to him for some reason (or the idea hadn’t been invented yet). Surely if he had been aware of this amazing miracle, he would have included it. That he didn’t, tells us it was not part of the popular culture or oral tradition. The thing is, prior to Mark, all we have is Paul and possibly Hebrews, and those epistles paint a picture of a celestial Jesus, a mythical Jesus, not a real human being of this earth, Jesus. We don’t get a human Jesus until Mark.
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    Matthew was the first to give us a virgin birth story (but he copied from the Greek version of the OT and didn’t realize the word (almah) translated as “virgin” was really “young maiden” and that there was another word (betulah) that meant virgin which could have been used in Isaiah if it had been that critical, but let’s go ahead and assume the word was virgin. In Matthew, Mary is not spoken to at all. She is given no say in the matter –indeed, as was the case then, the only opinion that mattered was that of the husband. Joseph was a good guy, he was going to send her away. The law called for stoning her to death.
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    The virgin birth story really comes to life with the author of Luke who embellishes Matthew, just as he, in turn, had embellished Mark in many other areas of the story. Luke embellishes the heck out of the birth story, giving us a forerunner, John the Baptist, and a bunch of other details that neither Mark or Matthew know anything about – else they surely would have written about it; after all this was the story of the greatest person to ever live – but they didn’t know what only the author of Luke knew. How odd. Strange enough that Mark didn’t know about angelic visitations, but neither did Matthew. Luke surely made that up.
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    Luke has the angel Gabriel dispatched to inform Mary that she is going to be knocked up by Yahweh. Gabriel does not ask if this is OK with Mary. He is not seeking her permission; he is a messenger. Mary asks how this can come to be since she is a virgin, and Gabriel tells her that the Holy Spirit will do the deed. Mary understanding her place in society – one in which women don’t question what they are told to do – especially by angels – says “let it be to me according to your word” and accepts her fate; i.e. when rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.
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    Most scholars agree that John was the last gospel and that the author surely had the synoptic gospels to work with – but he voted against the virgin birth story by eliminating it from his account entirely. He didn’t accept the last supper story and a number of other things as well, but that’s another topic.
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    It turns out that all the glorification of Mary really comes from a single writer – the author of Luke – and this author is said by most to have also written Acts. What’s really interesting is that after the first chapter of Acts in which she gets a quick mention, Mary and anyone else associated with Jesus’ family or close friends and relations is written out of the story. They disappear completely. Not a single person asked a question about Mary and her virgin birth after the crucifixion? How very odd. While many pagan gods had virgin births, it still seems like something unusual enough to have been mentioned again as evidence of Jesus’ divine nature.
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    The alternative is that there was no Mary, and there was no Jesus, and that’s why none of these details are known. Why for example does Acts speak of a couple apostles being hauled to court, but not a single judge asks anyone what the heck happened to Jesus’ body? Pilate would have gone to the ends of the earth to track down a death sentence victim who slid out on his punishment – but in Acts, nobody is concerned about what happened to that body…. Here are people preaching in the streets about a man who escaped his death sentence, and they aren’t arrested by the authorities and questioned about the missing body? That’s just not realistic. I’m straying from the topic, so we’ll leave that for another time; but take the author of Luke/Acts with a big grain of salt. He sure seems to be making it all up – including the virgin birth.

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