Understanding the Assumption: Maturing in Faith and Worship

(My long-term followers will recognize this reflection. It’s my go-to for the Assumption because it covers many avenues for prayer.)

Many of us grew up in households where we were surrounded by a strong devotional faith. I am happy to be one of those people. These simple, sacramental practices awakened and engaged my young faith and offered me a visible means to respond to its stirrings. These practices also gave my parents and grandparents the tools to teach me to love and trust God, Mary, the saints, and my Guardian Angel.


I remember with gratitude the many parameters of that deep devotion which accompanied our fundamental practice of a sacramental and liturgical life.

  • Our home had a crucifix in every room to remind us of God’s Presence
  • Over the main door was the statue of the Infant of Prague and the first Christmas card we had received depicting the Three Kings to bless us on our journeys.
  • All year, Dad’s fedora sported a tiny piece of straw tucked into its plaid band. He had plucked it from the parish Christmas crèche, near to St. Joseph who was his patron.
  • During a really violent thunderstorm, we might get a sprinkling from Mom’s holy water flask kept for especially taxing situations.

And, maybe because we live not too far from the east coast, we had one special summer practice. We went into the ocean on the Feast of the Assumption, believing that, through the water, Mary offered us special healing and graces on that day.

I can still picture young kids helping their elderly grandparents into the shallow surf. I remember mothers and fathers marking their children’s brows with a briny Sign of the Cross. There was a humble, human reverence and trust in these actions that blesses me still.

While that August 15th ritual, like similar devotions, might seem superstitious and even hokey to some today, the memory of it remains with me as a testament to the simple faith and deep love of God’s people for our Blessed Mother.


It was just such devotion and faith, expressed over centuries by the faithful, that moved Pius XII to declare the dogma of the Assumption:

“We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
(MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS 44)


On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus(The Most Bountiful God). The world at that time was still healing from the horrors of World War II. The Pope himself, no doubt, was wounded beyond description by what he had witnessed. One can hear his deep pain as he begins his letter by saying:

“Now, just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue. Nevertheless, we are greatly consoled to see that, while the Catholic faith is being professed publicly and vigorously, piety toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent, and that almost everywhere on earth it is showing indications of a better and holier life.


This belief is complementary to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. These two articles of faith embrace the totality of Mary’s life which was uniquely blessed among all humans. Mary gives us, in our humanity, both a model of and a supportive invitation to holiness.


Marie T. Farrell, RSM presents a scholarly and insightful essay on the Assumption here. Her work gives us a rich understanding of the theological layers within this teaching.

Click here for Sr. Marie’s article
The article is the third one down, on page 13.

Sister Marie closes her essay with these words:
Mary assumed into heaven and Spiritualised in her whole personhood is a prophetic symbol of hope for us all. In his Resurrection-Ascension, Jesus has shown the way to eternal life. In the mystery of Assumption, the Church sees Mary as the first disciple of many to be graced with a future already opened by Christ, one that defies comprehension for ‘…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him…(1 Cor 2: 9)


Musical Reflection with Song below: Prayer of Pure Love ~ Letty Hammock and Sue K. Riley

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

May 24, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 87, allowing it to focus us on Mary, the Mother of Christ and thus of the Church. 

With her “Yes”, Mary engaged the Spirit of God and, like the ancient Holy City, became a dwelling place of Grace.

Glorious things are said of you,
    O city of God!
And of Zion they shall say:
    “One and all were born in her;
And the One who has established her
    is the Most High LORD.”

Psalm 87

In her book “Truly Our Sister”, theologian Elizabeth Johnson helps us to understand Mary as a companion, guide, and inspiration:

One fruitful approach to the theology of Mary, historically the mother of Jesus, called in faith the Theotokos or God-bearer, is to envision her as a concrete woman of our history who walked with the Spirit.


As I pray with Mary today, I picture her sitting with the young disciples after the mind-blowing experience of Pentecost. The whiff of Divine Electricity still pervades the room, still jars their senses to an indescribable timbre!

Mary is stilled with a silent understanding. From the abundance of her wisdom, gained in her daily presence with Jesus, Mary gently focuses, calms and directs these new evangelists for the task before them.

Mary is someone who has had her own “visitation by the Spirit”, many years before. Pentecost, for Mary, is a kind of “second Annunciation “. She knows what the willing reception of the Spirit will mean for one’s life.

Indeed, this moment – and their response, like hers so long ago – will bear God’s life into their world.


We call on Mary today, as Church and as individuals, to be with us as we are re-fired in the Holy Spirit. As we reflect on her and the way she opened her life to God, may we grow in faith and desire to open our own lives to the Spirit’s transformative power.


Elizabeth Johnson encourages us:

“to relate to Miriam of Nazareth as a partner in hope in the company of all the graced women and men who have gone before us; to be encouraged by her mothering of God to bring God to birth in our own world; to reclaim the power of her dangerous memory for the flourishing of suffering people; and to draw on the energy of her memory for a deeper relationship with the living God and stronger care for the world.”


Poetry: Annunciation – Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, 
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.

       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

                  ____________________

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.

But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

                  ____________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,
                                Spirit,
                                          suspended,
                                                            waiting.
                  ____________________

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.

The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.


Music: Vespro Della Beata Vergine – Claudio Monteverdi

From the baroque period, Monteverdi praises Mary in his masterpiece, Vespro Della Beata Vergine commonly referred to as Vespers of 1610. The work is monumental in scale and difficult to perform, requiring two large choirs who are skillful enough to cover up to 10 voice parts accompanied by an orchestral ensemble. Here is just an excerpt.

Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum: lauda Deum tuum, Sion.
Quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum: benedixit filiis tuis in te.
Qui posuit fines tuos pacem: et adipe frumenti satiat te.
Qui emittit eloquium suum terræ: velociter currit sermo ejus.
Qui dat nivem sicut lanam: nebulam sicut cinerem spargit.
Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas: ante faciem frigoris ejus quis sustinebit?
Emittet verbum suum, et liquefaciet ea: flabit spiritus ejus, et fluent aquæ.
Qui annunciate verbum suum Jacob: justitias et judicia sua Isræl.
Non fecit taliter omni nationi:
et judicia sua non manifestavit eis.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.
For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee.
He maketh peace in thy borders,
and filleth thee with the finest wheat.
He sendeth his commandment to the earth; his word runneth swiftly.
He giveth snow like wool;
he scattereth hoar frost like ashes.
He casteth forth his ice like morsels; before his cold who can stand?
He sendeth out his word, and melteth them; his spirit blows, and the waters flow.
He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgements to Isræl.
He hath not dealt so with any nation;
and his judgments he hath not made manifest.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, without end. Amen.

Psalm 89: Mary’s Echo

Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

June 20, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 89, as the Church celebrates the blessed humanity of Mary.

Yesterday and today, these beautiful “heart” feasts follow one upon the other, reminding us that both Jesus and Mary loved with human hearts like ours – Jesus as God, and Mary as God’s transformed Mirror.

As we pray with Mary today. Psalm 89 offers us a perfect context. The psalm was likely composed during a difficult time, when Israel began to doubt Yahweh’s enduring promise to care for them – some say during the Babylonian Captivity.

The psalm reminds the People of the Covenant and the Promise:

I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.

Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.
I will make his posterity endure forever
and his throne as the days of heaven.


Mary, born of the House of David, is the ultimate deliverer of that Promise in the person of her son, Jesus Christ. When, just before Jesus’ birth, Mary prays the Magnificat, we can hear echoes of Psalm 89:

And Mary said, 
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior….

He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly….

He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.


An extra song for Mary today, written in 1961 for a Firemen’s Choir

In our own times of trouble, or when a long endurance is required of us, our faith in God’s promises might waver too. Mary is a good one to talk to in such times. Her faith was refined from all need to place stipulations on God’s timing. She believed. Period.

And she wants to nurture that gift in us.


Poetry: I think Mary and psalmist would have liked this poem by Kahlil Gibran. I hope you do too. For me, it speaks of how faith deepens, as Mary’s did.

God
In the ancient days, when the first quiver of speech came to my lips,
I ascended the holy mountain and spoke unto God, saying, 
“Master, I am thy servant.  Thy hidden will 
is my law and I shall obey thee for ever more.”
 
But God made no answer, and like a mighty tempest passed away.
 
And after a thousand years I ascended the holy mountain and again
spoke unto God, saying, “Creator, I am thy creation.  
Out of clay hast thou fashioned me and to thee I owe mine all.”
 
And God made no answer, but like a thousand swift wings passed
away.
 
And after a thousand years I climbed the holy mountain 
and spoke unto God again, saying, “Father, I am thy child.  
In pity and love thou hast given me birth, 
and through love and worship I shall inherit thy kingdom.”
 
And God made no answer, and like the mist that veils the distant
hills he passed away.
 
And after a thousand years I climbed the sacred mountain 
and again spoke unto God, saying, “My God, my aim and my fulfillment; 
I am thy yesterday and thou are my tomorrow.  
I am thy root in the earth and thou art my flower in the sky, 
and together we grow before the face of the sun.”
 
Then God leaned over me, and in my ears whispered words of sweetness,
and even as the sea that enfoldeth a brook that runneth down to
her, God enfolded me.
 
And when I descended to the valleys and the plains God was there
also.

Music: Psalm 89: Forever I Will Sing the Goodness of the Lord – Brian J. Nelson; cantor David Adams

Prophecies and Dreams

Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 22, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our scripture readings lay down before our prayer the long line of salvation history. It is a line that we can walk in wonder, winding from Isaiah’s prophecy, through the House of David, down to Joseph dreaming in the Nazarene night.

line

It is a story filled with words we love because, ever since our childhood, they have carried to us the fragrant scent of Christmas. These readings are the thrilling stuff of prophecies and dreams, all the more wonderful because we know them now fulfilled.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.
Isaiah 7:14


Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.

For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.

She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:20


O Emmanuel

This long wick of Promise, burning slowly through the biblical years, bursts into light with the birth of Jesus Christ, the Fire of God.

Through our faith, that Divine Light kindles us – we who now, through our Baptism, carry the sacred DNA of Jesus into our times.

On this final Sunday of Advent, when the world’s “crazy Xmas” tries to hijack our  souls, let us be very intentional about the true meaning of these days. Let us take the time to “go into our heart cave” and prepare for Jesus. (Heart Cave poem to follow in a second post)

Music: Emmanuel – Tim Manion (Lyrics below)

Baby born in a stall.
Long ago now and hard to recall
Cold wind, darkness and sin,
your welcoming from us all.

 How can it be true?
A world grown so old now, how can it be new?
Sorrow’s end, God send,
born now for me and you

Emanuel, Emanuel
What are we that You have loved us so well?
A song on high, a Savior’s high, angel hosts rejoice
Thy glory to tell

 Lord, lead us to know.
You lay like a beggar, so humble, so low;
no place for Your head and straw for a bed,
the glory of God to show.

 Babe on mother’s knee,
child so soon to be nailed to a tree;
all praise, till the end of our days;
O Lord, You have set us free

Rabbouni

Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019

Click here for readings.

Resurrection

The Upper Room on Holy Saturday evening: a place filled with sadness, silence and seeking. Jesus was dead. Jerusalem, scattered to their various houses to keep Shabbat, murmur their shocked questions under their shaky prayers.

We have all been in rooms like this. They enclose a special kind of agony – one teetering between hope and doubt, between loss and restoration. It may have been a surgical waiting room or the hallway outside the courtroom. Sometimes, such a space is not bricks and mortar.  It is the space between a sealed envelope and the news inside. It is the hesitant pause between a heartfelt request and the critical response. In each of these places, we exist as if in a held breath, hoping against hope for life, freedom, and wholeness.

It was from such a room that Mary Magdalene stole away in the wee hours. A woman unafraid of loneliness, she walked in tearful prayer along the path to Jesus’ tomb. Sweet memories washed over her: forgiving words, release from demons, an alabaster jar. Scent of jasmine rose up on the early morning mist. Hope rose with it that his vow to return might be true. Then she saw the gaping tomb, the alarm that thieves had stolen him to sabotage his promise. She ran to the emptiness seeking him. She was met by angels clothed in light and glory, but they were not enough to soothe her.

Turning from them, she bumped against a gardener whom she begged for word of Jesus, just so she might tend to him again. A single word revealed his glory, “Mary”. He spoke her name in love.

As we seek the assurance of God’s presence in our lives, we too may be unaware that God is already with us. The deep listening of our spirit, dulled with daily burdens, may not hear our name lovingly spoken in the circumstances of our lives. God is standing behind every moment. All we need do is turn to recognize him.

Turn anger into understanding. Turn vengeance into forgiveness. Turn entitlement into gratitude. Turn indifference into love. All we need do is turn to recognize our Easter God.

Music: Rimsky-Korsakov – Russian Easter Overture

Poem: The Anointing at Bethany

John 12_3 jar

Come close with Mary, Martha, Lazarus
so close the candles stir with their soft breath
and kindle heart and soul to flame within us,
lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
in quietness and intimate encounter.
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
is broken open for the world’s true Lover.

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
with all the yearning such a fragrance brings.
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
here at the very center of all things,
here at the meeting place of love and loss,
we all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

(Malcolm Guite: The Anointing at Bethany)

The Harlot’s Hair

Thursday, September 20, 2018

      Click here for readings.

Can you see her? 

She is known throughout the town for the woman she is – no ordinary, unknown panderer of her body’s wares. She is a true “madam”, and a few of her customers already sit, silent and furtive, at the Pharisee’s table.

Lk7_37 jar

She wears an elegant robe, for her fees are steep. Gem-encrusted bracelets encircle her wrists and ankles. But it is her hair that crowns her beauty. Flowing like a sable river, it is wound in deep waves around her lovely face and shoulders. It is scented with a small bit of the precious ointment she now carries in her alabaster jar.

Among her many assets, it is her hair that sets her apart. Some women see it through green eyes; some men through black hearts. But she, even in the confusion of her choices, has always known it to be a gift. 

How to use the gift has been her life long challenge. Ultimately, would it prove to be her salvation or her damnation?  Is it not so with every special gift, with every leverage that makes us singular among our peers? 

These gifts may take the form of possessions, power, position, favor or myriad other shapes. They may reside in a clever wit, and incisive mind, and agile body, a profound spirit. They may rest in a dogged perseverance, an adhesive memory or a dynamic imagination. Whatever our unique power, it is the key to our self-definition. It speaks our particular presence in the world.

At some point in her soul’s journey, this gorgeous gospel woman decided that her superior beauty would serve Jesus. What might have caused that dramatic conversion in her life?

Some versions of the story say that seven devils were once cast from her by Jesus’s merciful hand. Whatever the moment might have been, we can see from today’s Gospel scene that it was profound, intimate, and complete.

Her luxuriant hair has become a sacrament of healing, offered on this night to a friend about to suffer death for the sake of Love. Because her own love is so great, she understands this suffering in Jesus long before his other followers.

This reading leaves us with so much to consider about our own gifts and how we use them; about the depth of our relationship with Jesus and how we show him our love; about what is in our alabaster jar and where we choose to pour its treasure.

Music: Pour My Love on You – Philips, Craig, and Dean

Mary, Mother of the Church

Monday, May 21, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052118.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. It is a day to honor Mary for giving life to Jesus for the sake of all humanity. It is day to beg her intercession for a world so desperately in need of Christ’s continued revelation.

Mary is the door through which Heaven visited earth to heal it from sinful fragmentation. May she continue to carry her beautiful grace to broken hearts and even to the twisted souls who broke them. Through her, may we all find healing.

Mary, Mother of Mercy, intercede for all Creation that we may embrace the love your Son taught us.

( Friends, I began my annual retreat on Pentecost evening. All of you, dear followers, will be very much in my prayers. Please pray for me too. ❤️)

Music: Ave Maria ~ Michael Hoppè

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SLoaDz1af0M

The “Scriptures of Our Lives”

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Readings: Acts 13:13-25; Psalm 89; John 13:16-20

Today, in Mercy, our readings continue to extol the blessings of salvation history as it culminates in the Resurrection. In Acts, Paul recounts God’s presence throughout the Jewish Scriptures . In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the fulfillment of these scriptures in Himself. Psalm 89 allows us to offer thanks for God’s presence throughout the “scriptures of our lives.” Are there times in your life when you remember God’s presence most gratefully? Are there times God has carried you through to salvation? Mary sang her thanks so beautifully that I thought our prayer would be blessed by a song about her.

Divine Lightning

Monday, April 9, 2018: Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation and Incarnation (because Palm Sunday fell on the normal date 3/25.) At the angel’s Word, Mary opened her being fully to the transforming power of God. Within her “Yes”, divinity and humanity became one. In each generation, God’s transformation of Creation continues in us. A holy “yes”, given to God’s revolutionary invitation, still has the power of Divine Lightning! Nothing is wilder than grace! Nothing more free than God’s imagination for us!

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