by Fr. Rufus Pereira
The three great liturgical solemnities of Mary celebrate the three magnificent moments or milestones or mysteries in her life: her Immaculate Conception (8th December) - the preparation for her singular mission, her Divine Motherhood (1st January) - the Mission and Mystery itself, and her Assumption into Heaven (15th August) - the close and climax of her mission. It was in 1950 that the great Italian Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary into heaven as a dogma of faith. I will never forget his words broadcast over Vatican Radio, as we seminarians of the Diocesan Seminary of Bombay sat huddled together and glued to the radio: "Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as the Queen above all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death".
Those words were ringing again in my ears in the Church of the Dormition (i.e. Sleeping) of Mary in Jerusalem during the Holy Week of 1984. For according to the local tradition the Apostles inspired by the Holy Spirit somehow came together from wherever they were and gathered round the dead (or sleeping) body of Mary who was then assumed (taken up) into heaven without undergoing the bodily corruption of death. If Enoch vanished because God took him away (Gen 5), and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind (2Kings2), how much more Mary would thus be assumed or taken up into heaven for two theological reasons. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is (in the past) a singular participation in her Son's resurrection and (in the future) an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians" (CCC966).
In the present, however, the Assumption of Mary is meant by God to be a sign of the dignity of woman, a reminder to us and to the world of today that God created not just man, but man and woman, male and female, into His own image and likeness, and that woman's sacred role was to be both man's helpmate and teammate and the mother of his children (Gen 1 & 2). And when the Enemy of God and man seduced the first woman, Eve, to tempt the first man, Adam, by offering him the forbidden fruit of the tree, God raised up the New Eve to lift up fallen man, by offering him Jesus, the New Adam, the blessed fruit of her womb. For Christ was conceived by the Spirit but was born of the Woman. The 'Hail Mary' of the Rosary reminds us, to paraphrase that prayer, that every woman is blessed in her womanhood since the womb is a holy place, and every woman is equally blessed in her motherhood for the fruit of that womb is equally holy. The Feast of the Assumption of Mary should therefore also be an occasion for every man's appreciation of woman, in imitation of Joseph, and for every child's gratitude to its mother, in imitation of Jesus.
Christ himself had a deep appreciation of and a true love for women, beginning with his mother. He was not ashamed of his family tree that included women, of whom one would not be exactly proud. He boldly confronted the religious leaders, who were for stoning the adulterous woman to death, and protected her. He came to the rescue of the prostitute, and even praised her openly for her repentance and love, when the Pharisees pretended to be scandalized by her unconventional conduct. He minced no words in rebuking his apostles, when they thought they were doing him a favour by hunting away the women who were bringing their children to him. There was a group of women who often followed him faithfully on mission with his apostles, accompanying him even on the road to Calvary. And strangely enough he chose Mary Magdalene, the one who had been possessed by seven devils, to be his first evangelist and that even to his chauvinistic apostles.
Finally, in preparation for Pentecost, Mary was in the upper room, with several women, as if to imply that the Church would not be born without the presence of women. Down the centuries there would spring forth numerous religious congregations of women, who would give up the God given joys of marriage and family to use their womanhood and nascent motherhood for the sake of the Kingdom of God, specifically, as in third world countries, in the field of education of timid young girls and of healthcare of bashful village women, even at the risk of being raped by evil men. Countless women saints, like Catherine of Sienna and Mother Teresa, have demonstrated in no unclear terms in their lifestyle and in their mission, that the Assumption of Our Lady is 'the great sign in heaven' of the ultimate victory of the humble Woman, meek and mild, and her children, the Church, over the ever-raging Dragon, and his cohorts.
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Led by the Spirit reproduced with permission from Charisindia. Copyright © Fr. Rufus Pereira. All rights reserved.