By Deacon Keith Fournier
'What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul' (Gregory of Nyssa)
On August 15 in the Western Church we celebrate the great Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most of our Eastern Christian brethren acknowledge the same great event on this Feast, calling it the “Dormition of the Mother of God.” Some join us in the celebration today and others, following another Calendar, commemorate in just a few days.
This event is the natural progression in the life of the Blessed Virgin of Nazareth. Her “Yes”, her “Fiat” of surrendered love, brought heaven to earth and opened earth to the heaven which received her. She is thus the sign of the Church’s future and provides the pattern of the Christian vocation. All who say “Yes” to her beloved Son - and live their lives in that surrendered love – bear Christ for the world and will join with her in the fullness of that communion of love.
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." In those few words, all of human history was forever changed. As we make them our own, our histories begin to change as well. The Angel proclaimed that Mary was “full of grace”, filled with the very life and presence of God. She walked in a deep, abiding and intimate relationship with God. He was with her before she even responded to His invitation. God chose Mary even before Mary chose God. This order is vitally important.
Mary’s Prayer, her “Fiat” (Medieval Latin, let it be done) was a response to the visitation from the messenger of heaven, the angel. It provides a pattern of prayer for every Christian. It unfolds into a life of praise, her 'Magnificat.' This canticle begins with the words in Latin 'Magnificat anima mea Dominum' ('My soul doth magnify the Lord') and is the Gospel text for the Liturgy during the day on this Feast. (Luke 1:46-55).
The 'Fiat' is more than a prayer and the 'Magnificat' more than a hymn of praise. Together they constitute a lesson book, a guide, for our own lives. This lesson book is desperately needed by Christians, indeed all people of good will, in an age characterized by pride and arrogance.
The pattern of the life of Mary, the first disciple of the Lord, reveals a trajectory of surrendered love. If we embrace the mystery of Mary, we will find the meaning of our own lives. We were created out of Love, in Love and for Love. As the beloved disciple John, who stood with her at the Tree of the Cross, reminds us in his first letter, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 Jn 4:16)
Mary said "Yes" to the invitation to participate in the communion of God’s love. She confronted her own fears and entered into a new way of living; so must we. Christians use the word “mystery” in a manner quite different than the contemporary west perceives the word. Christian 'mysteries' are not puzzles to be solved, but gifts to be received, in faith.
The Greek word “mysterion” (later translated “sacramentum” in Latin) is the word used for the Sacraments in the Eastern Church. They are “mysteries” of our faith. It is in that light that Mary is viewed as a “mystery”; she reveals the very heart of that faith. She also teaches us the meaning of our own lives. Like her, we are invited into communion with the Trinitarian God, in and through Jesus Christ.She shows us the way.
Mary lived a life of receiving and giving and giving and receiving. She has been called from the early centuries the "God-bearer" or "Mother of God" (which in Greek is Theo-tokos). She brought forth the Word of God. Her “Fiat”, her humble surrender, led to her “Magnificat.” Thus she becomes a prototype, showing us the vocation of every human person.
Her response reveals the meaning of life itself. We were made to give ourselves away to the Lord who has given Himself to us in a Holy exchange. He comes and abides within us. Through Baptism we enter into a new way of living in His Body, the Church. Living in that Church we are called to continue His redemptive mission by giving ourselves in Him for the world. An early father of the undivided Christian Church, Gregory of Nyssa, once wrote:
"What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for ‘we no longer know Christ according to the flesh’, but He dwells in us spiritually and the father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us."
When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, she bore within her the Incarnate Word of God as a living tabernacle of love. (Luke 1:38-45) Jesus, the Redeemer in the womb, was already saving the world and Mary, his chosen mother, was already His first disciple. This little Virgin from Nazareth not only experienced the great miracle but became herself a vehicle of grace for others.
Is it any wonder that the early Christians painted her image in the catacombs during their moments of fear, persecution and doubt? They found great inspiration from this little woman of great faith. In her “yes” they came to understand that ordinary people can change human history. They were inspired to add their own “yes”, their own “fiat” to hers.
Justin Martyr and many other early Christian apologists found in her “fiat”, her obedient “yes” to the angel, the undoing of the “no — I will not serve” given by the first woman Eve. They called Mary “The Second Eve”, the mother of a new creation. In her womb was carried the One whom the biblical authors would call the “New Adam”. He was born from her as the first born of a new race of men and women who would find a new birth and a new of living and dying through His Incarnation, Nativity, Life, Death and Resurrection.
That same Redeemer now resides within - and lives through - all those who respond to the invitation of Love like she did. Mary’s choice, her response to the invitation of a God who always respects human freedom, is a singularly extraordinary event in all of human history because it changed history forever. However, it is more.
It is an invitation to each one of us to explore our own personal histories and to write them anew in Jesus Christ. Mary is a mirror, a reflection, of “Some- One”, Jesus Christ, her Beloved Son,the Eternal Word from the Father who became the Incarnate Word within her. The Savior whom she was privileged to bear for the sake of the world filled her with His grace.
Each of us, now baptized into Him, are also called to become full of grace. The Lord desires to take up residence within us and be borne into a world that hungers for His love. Mary shows us the way. She heard the promise, believed, was filled with grace, and conceived the Lord who is Love incarnate. We can do likewise if we learn to pray, to listen, to hear, and to respond with our own “Yes”, living our lives in surrendered love.
Source: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The Feast of the Assumption (Shunoyo) of St. Mary by Fr. Mathai Varkey Puthukkunnathu
Beyond all heretical teachings and deviations, the prominence of Saint Mary is made clear in the words of Cyril of Alexandria, "I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?"
Assumption - Eastern Orthodox View
The feast of the Dormition or Falling-asleep of the Theotokos is celebrated on the fifteenth of August, preceded by a two-week fast. This feast, which is also sometimes called the Assumption, commemorates the death, resurrection and glorification of Christ's mother. It proclaims that Mary has been "assumed" by God into the heavenly kingdom of Christ in the fullness of her spiritual and bodily existence.
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