A Reflection on Revelation 11:19A, 12:1-6A, 10AB; I Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56 Sister Clare Carr, OSB
I have struggled with the writing of this feast because I have not had a very close relationship with Mary. Throughout my Catholic experience Mary has been presented as a meek, quiet 13- year-old, a woman I could not relate to. For me she needs to be a competent, courageous, and a strong woman. A woman of some years, perhaps even in the image of the crone, the wise woman in life.
This feast was believed to be celebrated in the first and second centuries of Christendom; however, it was lost with the destruction of Jerusalem. Emperor Constantine restored the city in the 3rd century. After the building of the Holy Sepulcher in 336, under Constantine’s influence the memories of Jesus and his mother were embraced.
One of the memories of Jesus’ mother centered around the “Tomb of Mary,” close to Mount Zion where the early Christian community lived. It was known as the “Place of Dormition,” the spot where Mary falls asleep and dies. What we hear from the Christian community is that there were no relics of Mary to be venerated because when opened, there was no body. The empty tomb stood on the edge of Jerusalem near the site of her death and became a place of Pilgrimage. Thus, the early Church believed in her ascension. And in 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary as a dogma of the church.
What is most striking to me is the recognition of the divinity of Mary. In her human form, she held the divine. She was a tabernacle, a tent for the ark of the covenant. This is a reality that we all share in; we are the dwelling and the temple of the Christ present in the world.
What is amazing about the scriptures that we hear as Mary accepts her role in Christ’s life is the revelation that she is a prophet among her own. That path to the prophetic is fivefold.
- There is the encounter with the Divine: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” from the angel.
- Often this encounter is depicted artistically paintings as occurring in the everyday life of the recipient: Mary was in the quiet of the day.
- There is a commissioning: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call him Jesus,” a Greek name that means “God is Salvation.”
- There is resistance, an objection that this is impossible, the “but”: “How can this be since I have no husband?”
- There is reassurance, a sign that nothing is impossible with God: “Behold your Kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, who was barren, for nothing is impossible with God.”
To be a prophet is to risk death, rejection and oppression. Imagine what it was like to be a young woman in her village who is pregnant out of wedlock. What might they gave said of her and of Joseph? Or of Jesus? The undercurrent in her community was that of scandal, and yet Mary says “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”
What an upheaval there is when Gods calls us. I am sure that all of us have had moments when we thought “this is impossible.” The illness of a child, the loss of a spouse, the fragmentation of a family due to divorce, the pain of our different ideologies. Yet God is in and with each of these.
Following her visit with Elizabeth, who is holding in her womb another prophet, Mary prays the Magnificat. These are words of the Psalmist, a hymn of praise and a song of liberation, that she has prayed over her lifetime. She joins the many women who have been prophetic in her history. There is Hannah, who herself is barren and has a miraculous birth, Samuel. Judith, who saves her community from destruction when she beheads the commander of the Assyrian army. There is Miriam who sings the praises of God who liberates the Israelites from Egypt. And Deborah, who was one of the most influential women of the Scriptures. Deborah spoke her wisdom for the liberation of her people Israel, meeting the enemy while in battle. Each of these women praising and singing the glory of God. Each of these women being a very important part of our salvation history.
Her opening line: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” was dangerous. The only one to be called Lord and Savior was the emperor of Rome Julius Caesar who called himself “a God made manifest.” But Mary sees herself as the servant of God, not of Caesar, and not a slave which many of the Israelites were. Mary is proclaiming her own liberation from slavery. She is the servant of God alone, God’s handmaid. She risks the imperial backlash. She will not be humiliated. He has regarded the low estate of his handmaid. Hence all will call me blessed. He who is mighty has done great things for me. And holy is his name. God will put down the mighty from their thrones and lift up those of low estate. He will be the almighty. And he will fill the hungry with good things.
Food in Mary’s culture implies wealth, the elites, but she proclaims that all of God’s people will enjoy the good things given by God. Truly, what that looked like in Mary’s day is not far from what we are experiencing today. What is God calling us to? Who are the oppressed and lowly that God is inviting into relationship, into hope? Who needs to be liberated today?
I believe that all of us need liberation today, the wealthy as well as the poor. Liberated from our narrow interpretation of our reality. Liberated from our smallness of vision, our fear that we will not get our needs met. A quote that has always confounded me is “live simply, so other may simply live.”
I started this reflection with the difficulty of knowing Mary. I end it knowing that I can follow the call of this prophetic presentation of Mary, a woman who in her own right is a liberator, courageous and steadfast.