The doctine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven is what Anglicans call a matter of “pious opinion” or “pious belief.” It is the belief that Mary’s body was raised to Heaven, that she did not die. Christians believe that we are resurrected, but that we will be given new bodies at the Second Coming and the Last Judgment.
I believe that the Assumption, that is the “assuming into Heaven” or the “falling asleep,” was entirely possible and find it interesting to note that no shrine or church or location in the world claims to possess her relics.
Either way, whether she died a natural death or was bodily raised to Heaven, she has been a miraculous blessing to mankind, having said yes to God in Nazareth all those years ago, having assented to the Father’s will. In this submission, in this assent, she bore within her body God himself. It is something I am slowly learning as I age, this assent, this submission, and the resulting glory.
Raised a Presbyterian, I was taught to fear devotion to Mary, that it was superstition. But, as our good Anglo-Catholic preacher said today, we venerate her, do her honor, as the most important of all saints, as theTheotokos, the God-Bearer. We venerate other saints as well, those who submitted and assented to God’s will in their lives. But perhaps because of my childhood training, my prayers to Our Lady are not as spontaneous as I would wish, and I confess I have never had the patience to recite a rosary, although I have often tried. Even so, praying a Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, the announcement Gabriel made to the young girl in Nazareth, reminds me of Mary’s love, guidance, and even power and influence.
I have had the great blessing of visiting many churches, abbeys, and cathedrals in Western Europe and most have a Lady Chapel (as do many churches in the U.S. as well). I enjoy lighting a candle and saying my Gabriel prayer and talking to her, asking for her guidance and blessing. I have visited Lourdes in the foothills of the French Pyrenees and the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in Paris where Mary appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous and Catherine Labouré. I’ve seen Bernadette’s incorrupt body in Nevers and Catherine’s in Paris. The shrines are packed with pilgrims of every race and color, age and condition, thousands quietly praying, singing, receiving the Eucharist.
I love the feminine aspect Mary gives our faith. In the long tradition of her veneration in the Church, her influence has been a positive one on Western culture. For, as our preacher explained this morning, this veneration of the Virgin led to the ideal of chivalry, to the recognition of women’s roles in Church and society, to the ideals of motherhood, family, and the Christian home. Mary offers a model for women, and today a most welcome one.
It was a red-and-white church this morning, with the broad swathes of red carpet and brick, and the white tented tabernacle, the white linen on the altar. We sang happy joyous hymns with many alleluias and saints rising in crescendo into the pitched eaves and the stained glass along the aisles. The organ sounded and we sang and I glanced at the lovely Madonna and Child to the left of the pulpit, with her soft blue robes, thankful.
I have been writing about Mary Magdalene in my novel-in-progress. I must not forget the other Mary, the Blessed Virgin, our own dear Mother. Her Lourdes medal rests under my Magdalene medal, close to my heart, and I pray for her guidance, love, and wisdom.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.