In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared a feast celebrating Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as a dogma of the Catholic faith. There are many feasts of Mary and this one was not a new thought; it’s reality had been celebrated by Christians with rituals from as early as the sixth century. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven is, ironically, something “assumed” since there is no concrete evidence of the fact that Mary, like Jesus, was taken body and soul into heaven at the time of her death, because of her esteemed role in the birth and life of Jesus in this earthly realm. It is one of those instances that the Church follows the sensus fidelium, a time when “from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” The Pope was, in a sense, just certifying what people had believed and practiced for centuries.
More recently than this proclamation has been the publication of an extraordinary book by Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ entitled: Truly our Sister: Mary in the Communion of Saints. I say it is extraordinary because of Sister Elizabeth’s exhaustive study of both the theology and the Scriptural evidence of Mary’s life. The added section on life in Nazareth in the first century of Christianity grounds our knowledge and appreciation of Mary as “one like us” who was a true human being, a mother who raised her child with all the worries of every mother, and then some. Mary’s joy was extreme as was her suffering and her service to us a blessing that calls for the gratitude of all. The wonderful conclusion of Sister Elizabeth’s work, therefore, is that Mary is totally approachable, not at all out of the reach of any of us. She is a model for us, but not in the manner of “Superwoman” – rather more like a wonderful mother, or “truly our sister.”
Let us honor her as such and think of her, as today’s gospel tells it, as running to share the news of her pregnancy with her kinswoman, Elizabeth, with all the awe and fear it held for her. Let us see her in the home of Elizabeth, a refuge from her confusion about how her life will unfurl, listening to stories and gathering her courage to return home to face what awaits her. And let us follow that life to the cross and beyond, wondering about her last days and the mix of emotions that must have been hers in those days until she was taken to her true home in peace. May we hold her in our hearts today and celebrate her willingness to be God’s presence in this world.