Mary, Mother of God, Mother for all

Madonna-and-Child

On December 31, 2013, Pope Francis prayed year-end Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica. Vespers began at 5 PM  with Pope Francis presiding over the prayers that constitute the Church’s official, public praise of God in the evening of the last day of the year, to be followed by the singing of the great hymn of gratitude in faith, the Te Deum, and the worship of the Blessed Sacrament before the giving of the blessing of the Eucharistic Lord.

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on the sense of history that permeates the life of those whose lives are signed by faith in Jesus Christ. “The biblical and Christian vision of time and history,” he said, “is not cyclical, but linear: it is a path that leads towards a conclusion.” He explained that the passing year does not represent an end in itself, but a step on the way towards a reality that is to be completed – another step toward the goal that lies ahead of us: a place of hope and happiness, because we will meet God, the Reason of our hope and Source of our joy.

Pope Francis went on to say that, as the year 2013 comes to an end, we collect, as in a basket, the days, the weeks, the months that we have lived, to offer everything to the Lord.

Pope Francis concluded, inviting everyone to look toward the new year, in a spirit of gratitude for that, which we have received, repentance for that, in which we have failed, and resolve to work with God’s grace to better our lives, our communities and ourselves.

On Wednesday, January 1, 2014, Pope Francis welcomed the new year with a solemn morning mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, calling the faithful to look to Mary as a Mother to all and messenger of hope.

Here is the official English translation of the Holy Father’s Homily:

In the first reading we find the ancient prayer of blessing which God gave to Moses to hand on to Aaron and his sons: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). There is no more meaningful time than the beginning of a new year to hear these words of blessing: they will accompany our journey through the year opening up before us. They are words of strength, courage and hope. Not an illusory hope, based on frail human promises, or a naïve hope which presumes that the future will be better simply because it is the future. Rather, it is a hope that has its foundation precisely in God’s blessing, a blessing which contains the greatest message of good wishes there can be; and this is the message which the Church brings to each of us, filled with the Lord’s loving care and providential help.

The message of hope contained in this blessing was fully realized in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God, and it was fulfilled in her before any other creature.

The Mother of God! This is the first and most important title of Our Lady. It refers to a quality, a role which the faith of the Christian people, in its tender and genuine devotion to our heavenly Mother, has understood from the beginning.

We recall that great moment in the history of the ancient Church, the Council of Ephesus, in which the divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary was authoritatively defined. The truth of her divine maternity found an echo in Rome where, a little later, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major was built, the first Marian shrine in Rome and in the entire West, in which the image of the Mother of God – the Theotokos – is venerated under the title of Salus Populi Romani. It is said that the residents of Ephesus used to gather at the gates of the basilica where the bishops were meeting and shout, “Mother of God!”. The faithful, by asking them to officially define this title of Our Lady, showed that they acknowledged her divine motherhood. Theirs was the spontaneous and sincere reaction of children who know their Mother well, for they love her with immense tenderness.

Mary has always been present in the hearts, the piety and above all the pilgrimage of faith of the Christian people. “The Church journeys through time… and on this journey she proceeds along the path already trodden by the Virgin Mary” (Redemptoris Mater, 2). Our journey of faith is the same as that of Mary, and so we feel that she is particularly close to us. As far as faith, the hinge of the Christian life, is concerned, the Mother of God shared our condition. She had to take the same path as ourselves, a path which is sometimes difficult and obscure. She had to advance in the “pilgrimage of faith” (Lumen Gentium, 58).

Our pilgrimage of faith has been inseparably linked to Mary ever since Jesus, dying on the Cross, gave her to us as our Mother, saying: “Behold your Mother!” (Jn 19:27). These words serve as a testament, bequeathing to the world a Mother. From that moment on, the Mother of God also became our Mother! When the faith of the disciples was most tested by difficulties and uncertainties, Jesus entrusted them to Mary, who was the first to believe, and whose faith would never fail. The “woman” became our Mother when she lost her divine Son. Her sorrowing heart was enlarged to make room for all men and women, whether good or bad, and she loves them as she loved Jesus. The woman who at the wedding at Cana in Galilee gave her faith-filled cooperation so that the wonders of God could be displayed in the world, at Calvary kept alive the flame of faith in the resurrection of her Son, and she communicates this with maternal affection to each and every person. Mary becomes in this way a source of hope and true joy!

The Mother of the Redeemer goes before us and continually strengthens us in faith, in our vocation and in our mission. By her example of humility and openness to God’s will she helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation. In this way our mission will be fruitful, because it is modeled on the motherhood of Mary. To her let us entrust our journey of faith, the desires of our heart, our needs and the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace. Let us then together invoke her: Holy Mother of God!

Watch Holy Mass on the occasion of the Marian Day today at 10am ET

Statue of Our Lady of Fatima
Yesterday, Saturday October 12, the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima arrived in Rome where it was part of various celebrations commemorating Marian Day for the Year of Faith, including a prayer service with a catechesis and a vigil with a video message to Marian Shrines all over the world. The statue has only left the shrine for exceptional and extraordinary events. The last time was during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 when, on May 13, Blessed John Paul II carried out the act of consecration to the Virgin.

Today, Sunday morning, October 13, the anniversary of the final appearance of the Virgin to the three shepherd children in 1917 in Fatima, the statue of the Virgin returned to St. Peter’s Square where it was once more taken in procession across St. Peter’s Square. The procession was followed by Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. At the end of Mass, the Holy Father consecrated the world to Our Lady before praying the Angelus.

Tune in to watch the Holy Father’s Mass on S+L TV at 10am ET, 7am PT. Download the Mass booklet in order to follow this morning’s celebration. (See our schedule for rebroadcast times)

The statue of Our Lady will remain in Rome until Sunday evening when it returns to Fatima.

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CNS photo/Nacho Doce, Reuters

Prayer Vigil at the Shrine of Divine Love

Pope Francis
At the end of today’s event on Marian Day – Year of Faith, October 12, 2013, the Pope addressed Marian shrines around the world with a video message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet all the pilgrims present in this Shrine of Divine Love, and all those who join us from the Marian shrines of Lourdes, Nazareth, Lujan, Vailankanni, Guadalupe, Akita, Nairobi, Benneux, Czestochowa and Marian Valley.

This evening I am united to all of you in praying the Holy Rosary and in Eucharistic adoration under the gaze of the Virgin Mary.

Mary’s gaze! How important this is! How many things can we say with a look! Affection, encouragement, compassion, love, but also disapproval, envy, pride and even hatred. Often a look says more than words; it says what words do not or dare not say.

At whom is the Virgin Mary looking? She is looking at each and every one of us. And how does she look at us? She looks at us as a Mother, with tenderness, mercy and love. That was how she gazed at her Son Jesus at all the moments of his life – joyful, luminous, sorrowful, glorious – as we contemplate in the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, simply and lovingly.

When we are weary, downcast, beset with cares, let us look to Mary, let us feel her gaze, which speaks to our heart and says: “Courage, my child, I am here to help you!”. Our Lady knows us well, she is a Mother, she is familiar with our joys and difficulties, our hopes and disappointments. When we feel the burden of our failings and our sins, let us look to Mary, who speaks to our hearts, saying: “Arise, go to my Son Jesus; in him you will find acceptance, mercy and new strength for the journey”.

Mary’s gaze is not directed towards us alone. At the foot of the Cross, when Jesus entrusted to her the Apostle John, and with him all of us, in the words: “Woman, here is your son” (Jn 19:26), the gaze of Mary was fixed on Jesus. Mary says to us what she said at the wedding feast of Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Mary points to Jesus, she asks us to bear witness to Jesus, she constantly guides us to her Son Jesus, because in him alone do we find salvation. He alone can change the water of our loneliness, difficulties and sin into the wine of encounter, joy and forgiveness. He alone.

“Blessed is she who believed!” Mary is blessed for her faith in God, for her faith, because her heart’s gaze was always fixed on God, the Son of God whom she bore in her womb and whom she contemplated upon the Cross. In the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Mary says to us: “Look at my son Jesus, keep your gaze fixed on him, listen to him, speak with him. He is gazing at you with love. Do not be afraid! He will teach you to follow him and to bear witness to him in all that you do, whether great and small, in your family life, at work, at times of celebration. He will teach you to go out of yourself and to look upon others with love, as he did. He loved you and loves you, not with words but with deeds”.

O Mary, let us feel your maternal gaze. Guide us to your Son. May we not be Christians “on display”, but Christians ready to “get our hands dirty” in building, with your Son Jesus, his Kingdom of love, joy and peace.

The Pope is scheduled to consecrate the world to Our Lady during a Mass on Sunday, October 13, 2013. This Mass will be broadcast on S+L TV at 10am ET.

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CNS Photo/Paul Haring

The Faith of Mary – Pope Francis’ catechesis on Mary

Marian Prayer Service
Pope Francis led a Marian prayer vigil on Saturday, Saturday October 12, 2013 in St. Peter’s Square. During the vigil, Pope Francis gave a special catechesis. Here is the text of the Holy Father’s message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are all gathered for this event of the Year of Faith devoted to Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church, our Mother. The statue of Our Lady, which has come from Fatima, helps us to feel her presence in our midst. Mary always brings us to Jesus. She is a woman of faith, a true believer. What was Mary’s faith like?

1. The first aspect of her faith is this: Mary’s faith unties the knot of sin (cf. Lumen Gentium, 56). What does that mean? The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council took up a phrase of Saint Irenaeus, who states that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith” (Adversus Haereses, III, 22, 4).

The “knot” of disobedience, the “knot” of unbelief. When children disobey their parents, we can say that a little “knot” is created. This happens if the child acts with an awareness of what he or she is doing, especially if there is a lie involved. At that moment, they break trust with their parents. How often does this happen! Then the relationship with their parents needs to be purified of this fault; the child has to ask forgiveness so that harmony and trust can be restored. Something of the same sort happens in our relationship with God. When we do not listen to him, when we do not follow his will, we do concrete things that demonstrate our lack of trust in him – for that is what sin is – and a kind of knot is created deep within us. These knots take away our peace and serenity. They are dangerous, since many knots can form a tangle which gets more and more painful and difficult to undo.

But nothing is impossible for God’s mercy! Even the most tangled knots are loosened by his grace. And Mary, whose “yes” opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the Mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that he can untangle the knots of our soul by his fatherly mercy. We might ask ourselves: What knots do I have in my life? Do I ask Mary to help me trust in God’s mercy, in order to change?

2. A second aspect is that Mary’s faith gave human flesh to Jesus. As the Council says: “Through her faith and obedience, she gave birth on earth to the very Son of the Father, without knowing man but by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit” (Lumen Gentium, 63). This was a point on which the Fathers of the Church greatly insisted: Mary first conceived Jesus in faith and then in the flesh, when she said “yes” to the message God gave her through the angel. What does this mean? It means that God did not want to become man by ignoring our freedom; he wanted to pass through Mary’s free assent, her “yes”.

But what took place most singularly in the Virgin Mary also takes place within us, spiritually, when we receive the word of God with a good and sincere heart and put it into practice. It is as if God takes flesh within us; he comes to dwell in us, for he dwells in all who love him and keep his word.

Let us ask ourselves: Do we think about this? Or do we think that Jesus’ incarnation is simply a past event which has nothing to do with us personally? Believing in Jesus means giving him our flesh with the humility and courage of Mary, so that he can continue to dwell in our midst. It means giving him our hands, to caress the little ones and the poor; our feet, to go forth and meet our brothers and sisters; our arms, to hold up the weak and to work in the Lord’s vineyard, our minds, to think and act in the light of the Gospel; and especially our hearts, to love and to make choices in accordance with God’s will. All this happens thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit. Let us be led by him!

3. The third aspect is Mary’s faith as a journey. The Council says that Mary “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith” (Lumen Gentium, 58). In this way she precedes us on this pilgrimage, she accompanies and sustains us.

How was Mary’s faith a journey? In the sense that her entire life was to follow her Son: He is the way, he is the path! To press forward in faith, to advance in the spiritual pilgrimage which is faith, is nothing other than to follow Jesus; to listen to him and be guided by his words; to see how he acts and to follow in his footsteps; to have his same sentiments of humility, mercy, closeness to others, but also his firm rejection of hypocrisy, duplicity and idolatry. The way of Jesus is the way of a love which is faithful to the end, even unto sacrificing one’s life; it is the way of the cross. The journey of faith thus passes through the cross.

Mary understood this from the beginning, when Herod sought to kill the newborn Jesus. But then this experience of the cross became deeper when Jesus was rejected and Mary’s faith encountered misunderstanding and contempt, and when Jesus’ “hour” came, the hour of his passion, when Mary’s faith was a little flame burning in the night. Through the night of Holy Saturday, Mary kept watch. Her flame, small but bright, remained burning until the dawn of the resurrection. And when she received word that the tomb was empty, her heart was filled with the joy of faith: Christian faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was the culmination of Mary’s journey of faith, and that of the whole Church. What is our faith like? Like Mary, do we keep it burning even at times of difficulty and darkness? Do I have the joy of faith?

This evening, O Mary, we thank you for our faith, and we renew our entrustment to you, Mother of our faith.

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CNS photo/Paul Haring

Fatima statue visits St. Peter’s

fatima

Yesterday, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, explained in a press conference that at the beginning of the Year of Faith it was decided that it would be fundamental to retrace the history of our faith, and for this reason Benedict XVI placed in the foreground the figure of Mary, who represents for believers the first response of complete and total faith, in which we fully abandon ourselves to God.

That is why today, Saturday October 12, the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima arrived in Rome where it will remain until Sunday evening when it returns to Fatima. The archbishop emphasized the importance of this event, recalling that “the statue never leaves the shrine, except in the case of entirely exceptional and extraordinary events. The last time was during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 when, on May 13, Blessed John Paul II carried out the act of consecration to the Virgin.” October 13 is the date chosen as it recalls the final appearance of the Virgin to the three shepherd children in 1917.

As is traditional in these events, on Saturday morning there was a pilgrimage to the Tomb of Peter followed by a catechesis with Pope Francis in the afternoon. Also, this afternoon at St. Peter’s Square there was be a moment of reflection, and at 4 p.m. a procession of the Virgin around the square. In accordance with tradition, pilgrims will be waving white handkerchiefs as the statue of the Virgin of Fatima passes. This prayer service will air LIVE on S+L TV at 11am ET. (See our schedule for rebroadcast times)

At 5 p.m. the Holy Father will greet the statue of the Virgin in front of the Basilica. Following a moment of prayer in St. Peter’s Square, the statue will be transported to the Santuario del Divino Amore, where an all-night prayer vigil will take place. This prayer vigil will will be broadcast on S+L TV at 1pm ET.

Tomorrow, Sunday morning, October 13, the statue of the Virgin will return to the Vatican where the procession across St. Peter’s Square will be repeated at 9.30 a.m., followed by Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. Finally, the Pope will carry out the act of consecration to the Virgin and will pray the Angelus with the pilgrims present. It is expected that over 150,000 pilgrims from all over the world will participate, with international representations from 48 countries. This Mass will be carried by S+L TV at 10am ET.

To learn more about the Apparitions at Fatima, watch Witness with Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, outgoing Vatican Secretary of State, done in 2008 During the interview, Fr. Rosica asks the Cardinal about the significance of devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and the question of the Fatima secrets.

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CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters

On Mary’s Day: struggle, resurrection, and hope

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Homily of Pope Francis for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Castel Gandolfo, August 15, 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

At the end of its Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council left us a very beautiful meditation on Mary Most Holy. Let me just recall the words referring to the mystery we celebrate today: “the immaculate Virgin preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (no. 59). Then towards the end, there is: “the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and the beginning of the church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise, she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come” (no. 68). In the light of this most beautiful image of our Mother, we are able to see the message of the biblical readings that we have just heard. We can focus on three key words: struggle, resurrection, hope.

The passage from Revelation presents the vision of the struggle between the woman and the dragon. The figure of the woman, representing the Church, is, on the one hand, glorious and triumphant and yet, on the other, still in travail. And the Church is like that: if in heaven she is already associated in some way with the glory of her Lord, in history she continually lives through the trials and challenges which the conflict between God and the evil one, the perennial enemy, brings. And in the struggle which the disciples must confront – all of us, all the disciples of Jesus, we must face this struggle – Mary does not leave them alone: the Mother of Christ and of the Church is always with us. She walks with us always, she is with us. And in a way, Mary shares this dual condition. She has of course already entered, once and for all, into heavenly glory. But this does not mean that she is distant or detached from us; rather Mary accompanies us, struggles with us, sustains Christians in their fight against the forces of evil. Prayer with Mary, especially the rosary – but listen carefully: the Rosary. Do you pray the Rosary every day? But I’m not sure you do? [the people shout "Yes!"] Really? Well, prayer with Mary, especially the Rosary, has this “suffering” dimension, that is of struggle, a sustaining prayer in the battle against the evil one and his accomplices. The Rosary also sustains us in the battle.

The second reading speaks to us of resurrection. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, insists that being Christian means believing that Christ is truly risen from the dead. Our whole faith is based upon this fundamental truth which is not an idea but an event. Even the mystery of Mary’s Assumption body and soul is fully inscribed in the resurrection of Christ. The Mother’s humanity is “attracted” by the Son in his own passage from death to life. Once and for all, Jesus entered into eternal life with all the humanity he had drawn from Mary; and she, the Mother, who followed him faithfully throughout her life, followed him with her heart, and entered with him into eternal life which we also call heaven, paradise, the Father’s house.

Mary also experienced the martyrdom of the Cross: the martyrdom of her heart, the martyrdom of her soul. She lived her Son’s Passion to the depths of her soul. She was fully united to him in his death, and so she was given the gift of resurrection. Christ is the first fruits from the dead and Mary is the first of the redeemed, the first of “those who are in Christ”. She is our Mother, but we can also say that she is our representative, our sister, our eldest sister, she is the first of the redeemed, who has arrived in heaven.

The Gospel suggests to us the third word: hope. Hope is the virtue of those who, experiencing conflict – the struggle between life and death, good and evil – believe in the resurrection of Christ, in the victory of love. We heard the Song of Mary, the Magnificat: it is the song of hope, it is the song of the People of God walking through history. It is the song many saints, men and women, some famous, and very many others unknown to us but known to God: mums, dads, catechists, missionaries, priests, sisters, young people, even children and grandparents: these have faced the struggle of life while carrying in their heart the hope of the little and the humble.

Mary says: “My souls glorifies the Lord” – today, the Church too sings this in every part of the world. This song is particularly strong in places where the Body of Christ is suffering the Passion. For us Christians, wherever the Cross is, there is hope, always. If there is no hope, we are not Christian. That is why I like to say: do not allow yourselves to be robbed of hope. May we not be robbed of hope, because this strength is a grace, a gift from God which carries us forward with our eyes fixed on heaven. And Mary is always there, near those communities, our brothers and sisters, she accompanies them, suffers with them, and sings the Magnificat of hope with them.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, with all our heart let us too unite ourselves to this song of patience and victory, of struggle and joy, that unites the triumphant Church with the pilgrim one, earth with heaven, and that joins our lives to the eternity towards which we journey. Amen.

At the conclusion of the Angelus Address, Pope Francis appealed for peace, dialogue and reconciliation in Egypt.  He lamented the “painful news” coming from Egypt following the bloody crackdown there by security forces on protesters and appealed for “peace, dialogue and reconciliation.”

The following is a translation into English of his remarks which came at the end of his Angelus address:

“Unfortunately, painful news has come from Egypt. I wish to ensure my prayers for all the victims and their families, the injured and all those who are suffering. Let us pray together for peace, dialogue and reconciliation in that dear nation and throughout the world. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us. Let’s all say it, Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.”

You found such beauty among us…

Assunta

On the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary – August 15, 2013
The readings for this solemnity are: Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab;  1 Cor 15:20-27, and Luke 1:39-56 

Don’t smile, brothers and sisters,
And don’t shrug your shoulders:
Our God is fascinating and what he does always surpasses the impossible
God looked upon a woman and loved her,
And he who loves even before looking at the face
seeks the beauty that lies in the heart.

God looked upon a woman who was from the race
of the little ones without name,
Those that live far away from palaces-
Those who work in kitchens,
Those who come from the numbers of the humble and the forgotten,
Those that never open their mouths and who are accustomed to poverty.
God looked upon her and found her to be beautiful,
And this woman was joined to him as if she was his beloved- for life and for death.

From now on all generations will call her blessed.
God looked upon a woman. Her name was Mary.
As a woman who gives herself, she believed,
and during the night, in a grotto, she cried out with pain,
and from her womb God himself was born,
bringing with him salvation and peace,
like treasures for all eternity.

As a woman who surrenders herself and never regrets it,
she believed against all the obscurity that enveloped her,
against all the doubts that filled her.
From now on her name will be sung, because God took her
and she gave herself to him, she, Mary, one of us.
And God crowned her with stars and robed her with the sun,
and under her feet God placed the moon.
Her name is Mary, and if you looked upon her Lord,
it is because on our earth filled with women and men,
you found such beauty.

In Mary, Humanity and Divinity Are at Home

Assumption ceiling cropped

Biblical Reflection for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – August 15, 2013

Each year the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary occurs on August 15. I would like to offer a few reflections on the historical and pastoral significance of this important feast, and its relevance for our own life. The Assumption of Mary, Mother of the Lord, into heaven is a consoling sign of our hope. In looking to her, carried up amid the rejoicing of angels, human life is opened to the perspective of eternal happiness. Our own death is not the end but rather the entrance into life that knows no death.

Immaculate Conception

For Catholic Christians, the belief in the Assumption of Mary flows from our belief in and understanding of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. We believe that if Mary was preserved from sin by the free gift of God, she would not be bound to experience the consequences of sin and death in the same way that we do. We believe that because of the obedience and fidelity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the end of her earthly life, she was assumed both body and soul into heavenly glory.

History

For several centuries in the early Church, there is no mention by the Church Fathers of the bodily Assumption of Mary. Irenaeus, Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose and the other Church Fathers said nothing about it. Writing in 377 A.D., church father Epiphanius states that no one knows Mary’s end.

As early as the 5th century, the feast of the Assumption of Mary was celebrated in Syria. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the Apocryphal Books were testimony of the unwillingness of the Church to accept the fact that the body of the Mother of God should lie in a grave. In the 6th century, the feast of the Assumption was celebrated in Jerusalem and perhaps even in Alexandria.

The first “genuine” written references to the Assumption come from authors who lived in the sixth to the eighth centuries. It is mentioned in the sermons of St. Andrew of Crete, St. John Damascene, St. Modestus of Jerusalem and others. In the West, St. Gregory of Tours mentions it first. St. Gregory lived in the sixth century, while St. John Damascene belongs to the eighth century.

In the 9th century, the feast of the Assumption was celebrated in Spain. From the 10th to the 12th centuries, there was no dispute over the celebration of the feast in the Western Church. In the 12th century, the feast of was celebrated in the city of Rome and in France.

From the 13th century to the present, there is certain and undisputed faith in the Assumption of Mary in the universal Church. In 1950, Pope Pius XII taught infallibly (in his apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus): “Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.”

Assumption or Dormition?

The Catholic feast of the Assumption is celebrated on Aug. 15, and Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos (the falling asleep of the Mother of God) on or around the same date. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ upon death, and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her death and that she was taken up into heaven bodily in anticipation of the general resurrection. Her tomb was found empty on the third day. (One can visit the Orthodox tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem. It is located near the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane.)

Sign of the Kingdom

In presenting the “great sign” of the “woman clothed with the sun,” the first reading from the Book of Revelation (11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10) says that she “was with child and … cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery” (12:2). Just as the risen Christ who has ascended into heaven forever bears the wounds of his redemptive death within his glorious body, so his Mother brings to eternity “the pangs” and “anguish for delivery” (12:2). We could say that Mary, as the new Eve, continues from generation to generation to give birth to the new man, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). This is the Church’s eschatological image, which is present and active in the Virgin Mary.

Unless Christ is risen

In the second reading for today’s feast (1 Corinthians 15:20-27), St. Paul addresses a problem among the Corinthians: their denial of the resurrection of the dead (12) apparently because of their inability to imagine how any kind of bodily existence could be possible after death (35). Paul affirms both the essential corporeity of the resurrection and its future orientation. His response moves through three steps: a recall of the basic “kerygma” about Jesus’ resurrection (15:1-11), an assertion of the logical inconsistencies involved in denial of the resurrection (12-34), and an attempt to perceive theologically what the properties of the resurrected body must be (35-58).

Denial of the resurrection (15:12) involves logical inconsistencies. The basic one, stated twice (15:13, 16), is that if there is no such thing as (bodily) resurrection, then it has not taken place even in Christ’s case. The consequences for the Corinthians are grave: both forgiveness of sins and salvation are an illusion, despite their strong convictions about both. Unless Christ is risen, their faith does not save.

Christ’s definitive victory over death, which came into the world because of Adam’s sin, shines out in Mary, assumed into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. It was Christ, the “new” Adam, who conquered death, offering himself as a sacrifice on Calvary in loving obedience to the Father. In this way he redeemed us from the slavery of sin and evil. In Mary’s triumph, the Church contemplates her whom the Father chose as the true Mother of his Only-begotten Son, closely associating her with the saving plan of Redemption.

Life from barren wombs and empty tombs

The Gospel for today’s feast (Luke 1:39-56) invites us into the extraordinary story of two women sharing their faith, hope, and happiness as they prepare for motherhood. It is an occasion for celebration between Elizabeth, who is old and barren, and Mary, a young betrothed virgin — a story of God’s ability to both give and sustain life. Our God causes life to surge forth from barren wombs and empty tombs. Mary’s trip to the hill country of Judah is also a manifestation of the coming kingdom.

Mary is a model for each of us, and her Assumption into heaven reminds us that there is hope for you and me. What happens to the Virgin daughter of Nazareth at the end of her earthly pilgrimage will happen to each of us if we are faithful and obedient as she was.

Taken up into heaven, Mary shows us the way to God, the way to heaven, the way to life. She shows it to her children baptized in Christ and to all people of good will. She opens this way especially to the little ones and to the poor, those who are open to divine mercy. The Queen of the world reveals to individuals and to nations the power of the love of God whose plan upsets that of the proud, pulls down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble, fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away (Luke 1:51-53).

Marian triptych

We celebrate three great moments of Mary’s life knowing that they represent all of our lives. When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 with the Bull “Ineffabilis Deus,” he referred explicitly to the biblical story of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel. The angel Gabriel’s salutation, “Hail, full of grace,” is understood as recognizing that Mary must always have been free from sin. God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death. Through her Immaculate Conception, Mary was called for a special mission.

The second moment of Mary’s life is the Incarnation. Through the virginal birth of Jesus we are reminded that God moves powerfully in our lives too. Our response to that movement must be one of recognition, gratitude, humility, openness and welcome. Through the Incarnation, Mary was gifted with the Word made Flesh.

The Church celebrates Mary’s final journey into the fullness of God’s Kingdom with the dogma of the Assumption promulgated by Pius XII in 1950. As with her beginnings, so too, with the end of her life, God fulfilled in her all of the promises that he has given to us. We, too, shall be raised up into heaven as she was. In Mary we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we in God’s. Through her Assumption, Mary was chosen to have a special place of honor in the Godhead.

Mary follows our footsteps

Let me conclude these reflections on Mary’s Assumption with the moving words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, spoken at his weekly General Audience at Castel Gandolfo on Aug. 16, 2006.

He said:

“By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful. Consequently, we must not lose our serenity and peace even amid the thousands of daily difficulties. The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon.

“We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand. Supported by awareness of this, let us continue confidently on our path of Christian commitment wherever Providence may lead us. Let us forge ahead in our lives under Mary’s guidance.”

[The readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary are Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab; Psalm 45; 1 Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2010 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

(Photo courtesy CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Archbishop Lacroix presents the Immaculate Conception Marian Prayer Program

Immaculate Conception cropped

At the 131st Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, Most. Rev. Gerard Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, inaugurated the Marian Prayer Program in honour of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of the Basilica Cathedral of Notre-­Dame de Quebec. Below are his remarks presenting the Prayer Program, August 7, 2013

Bonjour à vous tous! Des salutations chaleureuses du Québec et du Canada. A todos ustedes, hermanos en la fe, un saludo afectuoso.
Dear Brother Knights and Friends:

Vivat Jesus !

It is a great joy for me to be with you today, as Archbishop of Quebec, the cradle of the Catholic Church in North America, north of the Spanish Colonies. For over 400 years, the Gospel has been proclaimed in our great land.

When Blessed François de Laval, our first Bishop was appointed to the Diocese of Quebec, it was probably one of the largest Diocese in the world, covering most of North America, except Mexico and the Spanish Colonies, stretching from the ice covered lands of northern Canada down to Louisiana, from Oregon to Nova Scotia. Some great men and women came to la Nouvelle France, missionaries filled with the Love of God and a powerful mission to accomplish: to evangelize and build a new world. And since then, thousands of missionaries have bent sent all over the world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Today, our country is in great need of missionaries for the urgent mission of new evangelization.

Next year, 2014, will be a Jubilee Year for the Diocese of Quebec. We will be celebrating the 350th anniversary of the creation of the first parish in Canada, Notre?Dame de Québec, which is still today a parish and our cathedral.

Bishop François de Laval founded this parish under the patronage of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, almost two centuries before the Dogma was officially declared by the Church. And the Jesuits, who were there before him, facing important challenges in the evangelization of the New World and numerous obstacles, had made a vow on December 8th 1635, to build a church to honor God under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. How we need our Blessed Mother’s intercession to continue that mission !

Today, at the initiative of our Worthy Supreme Knight, we inaugurate the 16th prayer program of the Knights of Columbus, conducted using a sacred image as its centerpiece. In 1979, the first such program was begun with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. In preparation for the 1982 Centennial of the Order, the second prayer program was initiated, which also highlighted the Immaculate Conception. Over the years, the Blessed Mother has also been honored by her Knights under her titles of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Our Lady of Pochaiv, Our Lady of the Assumption, Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of Charity. These Orderwide programs of Marian Prayer have gathered together more than 16 million people at some 140,000 prayer services conducted at local councils and parishes.

We now launch another the Knights of Columbus Marian Prayer Program, this time dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

The image that is before us today is a reproduction of the painting that embellishes the Basilica Cathedral Notre?Dame de Québec, above the main altar, a colorful painting of Our Lady, the work of Sister Marie de l’Eucharistie, a Sister of Charity of Québec.

May Our Lady accompany our Church and all the members of our Order all over the world. Like her, we want to be open to the Holy Spirit and available to accomplish God’s plan in today’s world. And following Our Lady’s example, we want to leave with haste as she did, to share the Good News of the Gospel to a world that needs the Hope and the Truth and the Love of Jesus Christ.

As we initiate this new edition of the Marian Prayer Program, allow me to invite you to seriously consider visiting Quebec sometime in 2014 for a pilgrimage that could change your life. Come with your family, your parish, your councils and assemblies, your diocese. Come to the beautiful city of Quebec and let the Lord renew your faith and send you as disciples and missionaries to a world that needs you, to a world that awaits the Good News of Salvation that can only come from Jesus Christ. And to tell you all the truth, in Quebec, we also need you, we need to witness the dynamic faith and the love in action that portrays you Brother Knights so well. Many of you have told me how much you love Quebec. Well, we need a lot of love at this moment of our history. Come North to where it is cooler!

As we inaugurate this new Marian Prayer Program, may Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the Diocese of Quebec, our Mother and the Mother of the Church, the star of New Evangelization, lead us to her Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World. 

When Cronos Is Transformed Into Kairos

Jesus turns water in to wine
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C – January 20, 2013
The readings for this Sunday are: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; and John 2:1-11

Last Sunday gave us an opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and our own baptismal commitment. The wedding feast of Cana of today’s Gospel (John 2:1-11) is a manifestation of God’s glory and it continues the theme of Christ’s Epiphany and Baptism — of Jesus inaugurating his divine mission on earth.

The evocative text from Evening Prayer on the Feast of the Epiphany reads: “Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.” Each event is accompanied by a theophany, by startling evidence of divine intervention; the star, the water into wine, the voice from heaven and the dove.

The story of the wedding feast in Cana may have been constructed from a real event in Jesus’ life. A careful reading of the text allows us to recognize the hand of the evangelist John reconstructing the scene, building in multiple layers of symbolic meaning. Today we look at the water becoming wine, the ordinary becoming extraordinary, and the beginnings of the Messianic age. The miracle at Cana foretells the way in which Jesus will accomplish his mission — by shedding his blood on the cross.

Key points of the story

Let us consider several key points of this highly symbolic Gospel story that has no parallel story in the other Gospels. “Sign” (semeion) is John’s symbolic term for Jesus’ wondrous deeds. John is interested primarily in what the “signs” (semeia) signify: God’s intervention in human history in a new way through Jesus. At Cana, symbol and reality meet: The human marriage of two young people is the occasion to speak of another marriage, the one between Christ and the Church, which will be achieved in “his hour” on the cross. At Cana in Galilee, we encounter the first sign when Jesus manifests his glory and the disciples believe. [Read more...]