Today is of course the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Dutch priest, theologian, philosopher and intellectual Erasmus, speaking from the Middle Ages and perhaps getting rather carried away with himself in a burst of love and veneration for Mary, declared: ‘No worship of Mary is more gracious than if you imitate Mary’s humility.’ Of course, we know that we don’t worship Mary as true worship is reserved for God and God alone. In old English, the word ‘worship’ depending on context could also refer to deference to a greater individual – like a civil leader or member of the judiciary. Some old Catholic hymns speak of devotion to Mary as ‘worship’ but strictly in this other sense, and in no way equal to the loving adoration and praise which is reserved for Almighty God.
Yet sometimes our hearts overflow with love and thanks to God for her and we venerate her witness as the perfect disciple. This is demonstrated in her humility as pointed out by Erasmus and expressed in today’s gospel: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.’ Humility properly understood isn’t anything to do with having a contrived low self-esteem. It is rather having a true appreciation of our littleness, God’s greatness and goodness, and our need for him in our lives – as reflected in the above quote from Mary’s Magnificat.
She was, however, much more than the perfect disciple: she was and is the Mother of God. Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ which flows directly from it. Through her union with Christ she was preserved free from all stain of original sin and so, when the course of her earthly life was finished, she was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory. She was exalted by the Lord our God as Queen over all things, so that she might be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of Lords and the conqueror of sin and death.
Today, on this most holy and wonderful of feast-days, we are, in fact, celebrating the promise of our own resurrection from the dead. In the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary we anticipate, in some way, our own resurrection from the dead. Mary has, in this sense, gone before us, marked with the sign of faith. In the profound and moving words of the Byzantine Liturgy: `In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition [death/falling asleep] you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.’
The bishops at the Second Vatican Council, almost imitating Erasmus’ enthusiasm, said: ‘In a wholly singular way she co-operated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the Saviour’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us all in the order of grace’ (Lumen Gentium 61).