Today Christians throughout the world celebrate one of the major feasts of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Known as “The Assumption” it is one of those tenets of Christianity which is not proven by Scripture but is rather “taken on faith.” That Mary was “taken into heaven, body and soul” seemed a logical conclusion to the life of the one that the Council of Ephesus in the year 431 had called Theotokos (God-bearer), the mother of Christ who was believed to have been “conceived without sin.”
Women throughout Christian history, especially mothers, have prayed to Mary as their “go to person” in needs of every kind and is held in high esteem as well by people of other faith traditions around the world. She is claimed as a mother by faithful men, perhaps especially in wartime or postwar peace, who carry their rosaries in their pockets, praying in foxholes or on the bus to work, asking her intercession and her care.
In 2004 theologian Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, added a marvelous resource for our consideration of this “favored one of God” with the publication of her exquisite text, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints. Doctor Johnson studies Mary from the contexts of Scripture, archeology, history of the Church and the Tradition of Christianity. What emerges is a fresh face, a real woman of her times who calls us by her fidelity to do the work of God in the world as she did in her lifetime and continues to do by inspiring and leading us on. The opening paragraph of the final chapter holds a hint of what can be found and celebrated in this book and on this day dedicated to Mother Mary.
Mary, Friend of God and Prophet
Assembled together, the individual biblical portraits of Mary of Nazareth form a mosaic image of a woman of Spirit. Honed by the historical background of Galilean Judaism and interpreted by women’s sensibilities, the mosaic delivers a glimpse of an actual woman, a first-century member of an oppressed peasant society, whose walk with the Spirit at a pivotal moment in salvation history made a unique contribution to the good of the world. Within the overarching picture of God’s redeeming action in Christ, each tessera adds a different aspect to the church’s memory of her life. Our final task is to weave this living memory into that of the great company of friends of God and prophets which is the communion of saints. In the process, we need to keep doing our God work, understanding that female imagery rightly belongs in our discourse about the divine mystery: the living God herself is our mother of infinite mercy. And we need to keep doing our anthropology work, shucking off gender definitions of the feminine that confine women to subordinate roles. With our flanks thus continually safeguarded, we step back from a close focus on the Marian mosaic to espy the sweeping vista of which it is a part. (p.305)