This past Monday, August 15, was the day in this year’s liturgical calendar when Episcopalians celebrate what we consider the major feast of Saint Mary the Virgin. Traditionally, this day is known as the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, honoring the belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed bodily into heaven, as separate from the holy days of the Annunciation and the Visitation. But the theological celebration in the Episcopal Church may encompass all aspects of Mary’s life. I quote from the Episcopal publication, Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, referring to Mary as “one who stood in so intimate a relationship with the incarnate Son of God on earth must, of all the human race, have the place of highest honor in the external life of God.” The painting below touches my heart with its death scene and simultaneous representation of Mary with Jesus in the position in which we most frequently see Mary holding Jesus in her arms with love.
For me, Mary is an exemplar of faith, humility, and courage. She was an incredible risk-taker when she said yes to God’s plan for her. She acted on her faith when everything in her daily life and common sense must have lead her to doubt herself, the situation, and frankly the Angel Gabriel. It was just so out of the box. The Annunciation was an amazing and terrifying event. For a young girl, it must have been terrifying—both the idea that it was happening to her as well as the consequences she would face in society for accepting God’s will. But she relied on her faith. Mary accepted that “nothing will be impossible with God. Then Mary said [to Gabriel], “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 37-38)
Not only does the young and lowly Mary accept her destiny with grace, but also she exhibits joy in her heart. But the joy is not for herself but for her God and for the people, for the lowly and the hungry. Today we might call them the marginalized in society. The Gospel for this feast day to honor Mary is the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55), the sublime poetry that is Mary’s song to God.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
The setting is the Visitation with her cousin Elizabeth who responds to Mary with the following, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:45.
In terms of modern day commentary on honoring Saint Mary the Virgin, I love a quotation from a modern Roman Catholic theologian, sociologist, journalist, and writer of mystery and romance novels—Father Andrew M. Greeley. He writes that our celebration of Mary is the “celebration of nurturing love in all its forms.” Mary symbolizes for me that nurturing love and steadfast loyalty that she showed to Jesus from the Annunciation to the Nativity to the child and adult to the cross and beyond to the acceptance of the Holy Spirit in that upper room. I am so glad we take time to honor Mary in our liturgical year.
On a whimsical note, I am including below a drawing that you could color, now that coloring is all the rage. May coloring it relieve your stress and bring you the peaceful acceptance, joy, and love that Mary represents.
PS The words “Asunción de Nuestra Señora” in the drawing translate as the Assumption of Our Lady.”