Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Memory of Mary

Reflections on the Readings
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sunday, August 15, 2010 - Year C
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Memory of Mary

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry,"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! - Elizabeth
And Mary said,...For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me. - Mary

In 451 A.D., during the Council of Chalcedon, bishops from all over the Mediterranean gathered in Constantinople.  Marcian, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring relics of the body of Mary to be enshrined in the Capitol City.  The Patriarch answered that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, and stated that, "Mary died in the presence of the apostles; her tomb, when opened later being found empty, so that the apostles concluded her body was taken up into heaven."(EWTN Library)

At the Annunciation, Gabriel greeted Mary saying, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" Some ancient authorities add "Blessed are you among women!" Here are some questions.

How did Luke know that Mary had been greeted this way by an angel?  An archangel at that?  I suspect Luke, whose Gospel turns on details, encountered the memory of Mary in the early Church.

How else would we know Mary 'pondered things in her heart,' unless a memory of Mary lingered in the Church because of details Mary herself provided the Church?  

How did Luke know that Mary went into the hill country, to a city of Judah to visit her cousin, Elizabeth? Again, the memory of Mary sustained the hearts of the early followers of Mary's Son.

Lastly, how is Luke aware of the tenderest of statements about Mary, namely, when Elizabeth exclaims to Mary, "And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"  Is it not because the Church possessed a special devotion to keeping alive the memory of Mary?  

It is Luke who begins his gospel account explaining that his narrative is dependent upon the memory of the Church; things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. (Luke 1:1ff)

Memory is important for passing down information, whether it be national history, family history, or the history of the Church.  It is particularly important for explaining certain practices and traditions.  And in the Church it is especially important.  Before anything was codified, the way to worship, life in the Spirit, and the teaching of the early Church is based on its living memory of Jesus; a memory kept alive by Jesus' Apostles and his Mother.

It is this living memory of the Church and specifically its memory of Mary that prompted Pope Pius XII to proclaim as dogma the Assumption of Mary stating, "The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven." In those words, Pope Pius XII declared the ancient memory of Mary in the Church an essential teaching and truth of Christian belief.

The memory of Mary is especially lively in Luke's narrative.  One aspect of devotion to Mary is uniquely tied to the Old Testament.  It is the parallel seen between Mary's visit to Elizabeth and David's effort to bring back the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  David, like Mary, 'arose and went' into the hill country of Judah.  Elizabeth's humility and awe expressed in the presence of Mary is much like David's reverence he felt standing before the Ark of the Lord.  The similarities include the joyful exclamation of Elizabeth to Mary and those along with David 'making merry before the Lord,' and David 'dancing with all his might' before the Ark of the Covenant.  (2 Samuel 6) (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)

Before living in Mary's womb, God was in a box. It was a very holy, gold covered chest or Ark, containing the two Tables of the Commandments, remnants of the Manna from the Wilderness journey, and Aaron's rod that budded.  Placed in the Holy of Holies, adoration of this gold chest is depicted by two golden Cherubim on either end hovering over the lid or 'mercy seat.' All of this, the gold chest, its contents and the hovering golden angels is a reminder of God's holy and merciful presence among his chosen people. 

For the early Church and for us, Mary is the new Ark of God's presence in the world. Conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is Jesus, the Word made flesh, the living bread from heaven, and the priest of the new and everlasting covenant.  Mary nurtured him who is the Resurrection and the Life with her own body and blood; he whom Satan sought to kill at his birth.

In the living memory of the Church, Mary is the Mother of God; a Queen in her Son's Kingdom, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.  This is the memory of the Church.  It is a powerfully vivid memory, reminding us that Mary carried in her undefiled womb our Salvation, the rich and untarnished treasure of heaven, God's only Son.  And she who cradled God in her arms, and kissed his cheek that first Christmas morning, in her Assumption into heaven received the embrace and kiss of her Son!  

God did not ask Mary for her 'yes' and then forget her.  Neither does the Church. We continue as we have for over 2000 years to love and honor Mary, the Mother of our Lord and Savior. 

I remember a moment in celebrating the Mass as priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.  At the risk of being misunderstood, let me share that moment with you.  Being so touched by the mystery I celebrated, in a moment I cannot explain, I lifted up my hands and exclaimed,

"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus."

Such is the inspiration of the Memory of Mary in the Church of her Son, whose life we receive in the bread which is his body and the wine which is his blood.  


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