Today we join the whole Church in celebrating the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This significant feast day recalls the spiritual and physical departure of the mother of Jesus Christ from the earth, when both her body and her soul were taken into the presence of God. The Gospel we hear today presents Mary’s great hymn of praise – the Magnificat. The context in which this hymn is placed in the Gospel of Luke is actually a response to what Elizabeth says about Mary. Elizabeth exalts Mary first and the child in her womb but Mary turns that occasion to offer her prayer of praise through this hymn.
In the Bible, Mary’s hymn of praise has strong parallels in the victory hymns of Miriam (Ex. 15:1-18), Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10), and Judith (Jdt 16:1-17). Though Mary does not deny the greatness of what is about to happen through her, the hymn of praise focusses on God’s promise and Mary’s gratitude to God for being faithful to His promise: He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors.
Looking towards Mary and celebrating this solemnity in the midst of a pandemic invites us to look at two focal points in this hymn: firstly, God’s promise and secondly, our sense of gratitude. In the Book of Psalms, we read, “The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does” (Ps 145:13). We sometimes say, ‘promises are made to be broken’. However, when God makes a promise, it’s backed with more than just good intentions and wishful thinking. God is giving us His absolutely trustworthy Word and He shows it through the passion, death, and resurrection of His only beloved Son, Jesus Christ. In this time of adversity, we need to cling on to God’s promise, ‘do not be afraid… I am with you till the end of time’.
Mary is a perfect example of gratitude. In expressing this through a hymn, she shows us how we should thank God for His mercy and grace. She magnifies God’s name by giving Him praise and offering Him worship. There is nothing greater that we can offer to God other than our thanksgiving and gratitude which is at the core of our celebration of the Eucharist. Though Mary acknowledges all that God has done in her life, she is so overwhelmed by God’s love and grace that she is moved to sing the praises of God – our source of life and of all that is good.
Giving thanks and expressing gratitude often reminds us of how special, beautiful, and blessed our lives are even when we are faced with challenging, stressful, and overwhelming situations. In a time like this, the sense of gratitude could be hard to experience and probably not a pathway that many of us want to take because the pain of loss in every sense, is far too overwhelming – freedom, livelihood, and most painful of them all, the loss of a loved one.
Though we are experiencing pain and suffering, Mary comes to us today with her hymn of praise inviting us to refocus on God rather than being drowned by the overwhelming feeling of pessimism and even hopelessness. In fact, practicing gratitude on a regular basis is instrumental in helping us become more optimistic even when the storm is too close for comfort. Despite the challenges that Mary was to experience in saying ‘Yes’ to God, she did not forget God’s faithfulness shown ‘to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
On this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I would like to invite you to take a brief moment to step back from all forms of pessimism, pain, loss, uncertainties, and even hopelessness. Make today a day of “giving thanks” to God, not of petitions or grumblings – just look around and be thankful for what we have.
There is no doubt that living through a pandemic is challenging. However, even in such times, surely we can think of three things to be grateful for. Even when fear, sadness, and loss seems to take over, let us not forget God’s promise of faithfulness towards us. Let our sense of gratitude today be our hymn of praise to God as Mary offered her hymn of praise to God – Holy is His name and His mercy reaches from age to age. Amen.
Solemnity of the Assumption of BVM (15 Aug 2021)