The Virgin Mother

A GREAT SIGN APPEARED IN HEAVEN: A WOMAN CLOAKED WITH THE SUN AND HAVING THE MOON UNDER HER UNDER HER FEET (Apocalypse 12:1). From the first time she is introduced in the New Testament, Mary is set apart from all others. She is designated by the angel as the most blessed of all women, superlative in her holiness a well as in the role she was to undertake in becoming the mother of the Savior. In assuming that role, she goes beyond the limits of nature so as to become unique, alone among all women she conceives and bears a child while remaining a virgin. Thus, from the beginning Mary stands for a kind of special creation; she is more than an outstanding individual. She is a symbol of the perfectly realized human person in God's plan. She does not need man for her fruitfulness; for her, God is enough. She is fructified by the Holy Spirit of God who overshadows her.

All of these prerogatives, and others implied by these, are given to us as a sign of our own fulfilled destiny. In her mysteries, Mary is at once a sign and a pledge of what we are to become in God's great plan of redemption. Today as we celebrate the culminating event that crowned the mystery of Mary, her bodily assumption into heaven, we hear expressly in the liturgy that A GREAT SIGN APPEARED IN HEAVEN: A WOMAN CLOAKED WITH THE SUN. From early times this sign was associated with Mary. This entire scene is shrouded in mystery and the language is deliberately symbolic, so that it can be rightly understood only by those who already share something of the author's perspective and beliefs. This woman who gives birth to a son whose life is in danger from hostile forces, is a symbol of the Church of God. She is best exemplified in Mary, the Mother of the Savior, as many commentators have correctly noted.

If Mary is now enthroned as Queen of Heaven and is honored as mother of the Church she has not obtained such privileges without paying a costly price in terms of suffering. Not for nothing was she told shortly after the birth of her son that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart. Her suffering began even before she gave birth, when she found herself pregnant with child and defenseless before the prospect of being put aside by her husband until Joseph received the special revelation that resolved his crisis of conscience. Above all she shared by compassion in the sufferings of our Lord during his active ministry when she learned of the increasing hostility of his enemies, and even more intensely when he was arrested, tortured and crucified. She found in the same Holy Spirit who had overshadowed her at the conception of the Lord, the strength of soul to remain standing at the cross until the end. What she suffered at that time surely surpasses imagination. But her faith and love were stronger than anguish and heart-rending pain so that she not only endured but actively accepted her share in the Passion of her divine Son. Thus is she fittingly seen as the woman who is attacked in the desert, suffering anguish at the birth of her child, that is to say, of the members of the persecuted Church, and threatened with the violent death of her son. As the Apocalypse goes on to state it:

And being pregnant with child she cried out from birth pangs, and suffered heavily in giving birth.... And the dragon stood in front of the woman about to give birth so that when she brought forth the child, he might devour him.

Following the ascension of Jesus she knew the sorrows of bereavement, having earlier on experienced the loss of her husband and the loneliness of widowhood. Yet through all these years she remained full of faith and confidence in the victory of her son and maintained her lively hope that she would join him in person in God's time. We celebrate today the occasion when that happy union took place.

For Mary's Assumption carried her, body and soul, into the presence of her risen and glorified son. Deservedly she is known as the virgo fidelis, the faithful virgin. Fidelity in love

proved stronger than the violence of deadly force. In this fidelity, as in her humility, Mary followed closely in the footsteps of her son. We in turn can best honor her today by imitating her in that loving faith that is constant in good times and hard, in sorrow as well as in joy. As we offer the Eucharist here this morning, may we so open our hearts to the glorified Son of God as to receive a share in that same divine favor that gave meaning and strength to Mary's life, and which even now unites her to God in glory for all eternity. Amen.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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