GREAT SIGN APPEARED IN HEAVEN: A WOMAN CLOAKED WITH THE SUN AND HAVING THE MOON 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.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul enunciates the source of grace that gave rise to Mary’s unique privileges when he speaks of her son’s resurrection and indicates some of the fruits of that mystery.

Now Christ has risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . in Christ all are made alive. Each one in his order: Christ the first fruits, then those who belong to Christ, who believe in his coming. . . . The final enemy, death, will be destroyed 1Cor. 15:20... 26).

Mary herself did not escape death, nor shall we. Nor was she spared suffering. Her privileges were merited by her son’s anticipated passion and death, but only with her own participation. She received her special graces as freely bestowed gifts of God, but she willingly accepted the sufferings that she understood would accompany her role as mother of the Savior. 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. She learned through that experience to place her trust wholly in God, for there was no way she could defend herself.

Mary’s capacity to open her heart to others and to have confidence in their potential goodness was greatly enhanced by her husband’s fidelity. Joseph, in putting his faith in the dream telling him it was by the overshadowing of the Spirit that Mary had conceived, became the channel of grace by which Mary experienced God’s fidelity to her. At the same time her gratitude to Joseph for his trust gave her a vast sympathy with all those in need. She learned by her own anguish how fully she depended on God’s mercy and having discovered how she received it through the faith and fidelity of another, she knew what it meant to have a loyal mediator with God.

However, it was through her relation with her son above all that she grew in sympathy and mercy. Her share in the Lord’s passion commenced shortly after the birth of her son when she was told that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart. She shared still more fully 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 while she 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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