SERMON for FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE B.V.M.-
17 AUGUST 2014 – S.M.A.A. – 8AM & 10AM MASSES – Father Ron Smith
The Lord Himself will give you a Sign –
In an earlier section from the Prophecy of Isaiah, we find that Ahaz was given a sign as to the destiny of the House and lineage of David, and its importance for the coming of the promised Messiah: “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanu-el – a word which means ‘God is with us’.
In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians today, we heard the story of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: of how “God’s Son, (was) born of a woman, born as a Jew and under the Law – in order to redeem those who were under the Law, so that they might receive adoption as children.”. This was a new situation, where not only Jews, but all who would come to accept Jesus as the Son of God would become the children of God, enabled by the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism to call God their Father.
Today, when we commemorate the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady into Heaven – a day when our Orthodox Brothers and Sisters commemorate what they are pleased to called the Dormition, or the Falling Asleep of Our Lady; the Church lectionary draws our attention – first – to the prophecies about her role in the coming of the Messiah; and secondly, to the vital part that Mary’s humble obedience actually played in the Incarnation of Jesus, as Messiah and Redeemer of the world.
Over a year ago, while we were in Assisi, my wife, Diana and I were privileged to visit the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, a great cathedral-type structure built over the remains of the tiny chapel of the Portiuncula, a word meaning ‘Little Portion’, where Saint Francis of Assisi lived with his friars and ministered to the local lepers – and where he later greeted Saint Clare when she escaped her family to join in the mission of the Brothers, before forming her own Order of Poor Clares later on. On entering the Basilica, one’s attention is immediately drawn to the queue of pilgrims lining up to pray in the tiny jewel of a chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and All the Angels; for whom Francis, Clare, and all Franciscans down the ages, have maintained a very special devotion.
As the closest human being to the person of Jesus, Mary was seen to be the touchstone between God and all humanity, and thus worthy of special love and devotion.
Later on our journeying in Europe, we took a special train out of the Spanish City of Barcelona to join the pilgrims to the mountain Monastery of Montserrat, where a re-discovered ancient statue of the Blessed Virgin and Child has been placed in a small chapel above the High Altar in the sanctuary of the monastery church. To get to the statue, we had to queue for 1 and 3/4 hours, making our way through the many side-chapels of the monastery building – which afforded us the view of many works of ecclesiastical art, and a reminder of the illustrious stream of visitors from various religious orders in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches that have made their own pilgrimage to Our Lady of Montserrat.
In the queue in front of us were a lovely young English couple who, though they admitted to no particular religious affiliation, still found themselves seeking out the religious shrines of Europe because of what they described as the thrill of the atmosphere of such places. They were quite willing to spend 1.3/4 hours to see the statue, and no doubt would gain something for their trouble. It made us think how God might just be able to work through the curiosity of this young couple to teach them something about the faith of other people, and thereby, perhaps ignite a spark of faith in their own hearts for having taken the trouble to make their pilgrimage.
On this day, 17 August, 2014, there will be Pilgrims processing through the Village of Walsingham (England’s Nazareth) to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, the site of a appearance of Christ’s Mother to the Lady Richeldis. The Anglican Shrine was renewed after the Reformation and occupies the original site. The former Slipper Chapel – so-named because of its location near the Shrine, was the place where people started their official pilgrimage by removing their shoes and walking barefoot to the shrine proper.
The Slipper Chapel has now been re-built as a large church, and has become the location of the Roman Catholic Shrine pilgrimage – although there is still a small chapel used by the Roman Catholics within the premises of the original, Anglican Shrine. Also, in the Anglican Shrine, there is a small chapel used by the Orthodox – though they, too, have their own separate Shrine in the village of Walsingham.
My belief in the relevance of Our Lady in my own faith journey took a new direction when I was a Franciscan Brother in Brisbane, attending a charismatic Mass in a small Roman Catholic Church in the suburbs. The Preacher was a Roman Catholic Sister who, during the course of her homily, asked if any of us in the congregation had never known their birth mother. Immediately my ears pricked up. My mother had been ill of a heart complaint when I was born, so that I was delivered by Caesarean Section, and although my mother lived for another 18 months, she was an invalid and unable to take care of me and I was fostered out to another family. Consequently, I had no recollection of my own mother – so what the sister was saying had relevance to me. “Close your eyes”, she said, “and imagine the mother of Jesus standing right in front of you and holding out her arms towards you”, After a few moments, during which the congregation was silent, I had the distinct impression of someone picking me up and enfolding me in their arms. From that moment on, I felt that the Mother of Jesus had become my substitute mother. I had no doubt that the Blessed Virgin Mary was now a factor in my life, and therefore, worthy of my special devotion.
Today’s Gospel at Mass follows on from St. Luke’s description of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, whose miraculous pregnancy with John the Baptist had been revealed to Mary at the Annunciation. Luke tells us that Elizabeth greeted Mary with the word’s “Blessed are you among women, and blest is the fruit of your womb.” One has to wonder how on earth Elizabeth could have known of Mary’s situation – except that, as the Gospel tells us: Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, informing her of what was going on. And, as if to corroborate this amazing revelation, we are told the “The child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy” at meeting his cousin – who would become his Saviour – in the womb of Mary. This meeting of the two children, in utero must have been a defining moment for both Mary and Elizabeth – when Mary’s conception of Jesus was actually confirmed.
Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting, as we now know, was spelled out in the words of the Magnificat. “All generations shall call me blest.” So our honouring of Mary and of her Assumption into Heaven can be seen as her due reward for providing the human frame for God’s Son at the Incarnation.
Some Christians have a problem with the thought of Mary being assumed into heaven. However, if it was good enough for the Old Testament Prophet, Elijah, to be taken up into heaven on a whirlwind; would God not be prepared for the Mother of God’s Son to be given a like reward for her faithfulness? Mary is often called the ‘Queen of Heaven’ in Roman Catholic and Orthodox circles, so it behoves us to accord to her the honour she has been given by the universal Church. And so we petition, with all generations of the Church, for the prayers of Our Lady for ourselves and those others who are promised salvation through the sacrifice of her Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ:
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” Our heartfelt response might be:
“Holy Mary, Mother of God; pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen. Pray for us, O Great Mother of God, Saint Michael and all you God’s Saints, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”
Father Ron Smith, St. Michael & All Angels, Christchurch, New Zealand
Below, see the link to the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham: