On 15 August we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While this is, in Church terms anyway, a recent addition to the liturgical calendar, having been declared an infallible doctrine by Pope Pius XII in 1950, it is a tradition that has been present since the sixth century.
In the Gospel reading for the day, we hear the account in Luke of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and the exchange between the two women has long been one of my favourite Gospel passages.
After the two kinswomen meet, Elizabeth utters the words which we now say as part of the Hail Mary, but it is always Mary’s response that gives me all the spiritual feels. There is just something about the words that Mary speaks and they are spoken from a place of complete union with and obedience to the will of God. Yes, we now venerate her as Queen of Heaven, Mother of Christ, Ark of the Covenant, and Morning Star to name but a few, but at this time that Luke recounts, she is still a young girl, maybe scared and unsure, and mindful of her ‘smallness’ in the world. Yet through God’s grace she is aware and able to convey so eloquently how God can use anyone in the world, even a “lowly handmaiden”, to do great things for him.
At various times, different lines of the Magnificat have resonated with me and it is a prayer that I return to in the ups and downs of life. Even when I can’t pray or don’t know what I’m praying for, I always find something within its lines that speaks to me. When I’m on top of the world the opening lines, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour,” spring out from me in song (usually the John Michael Talbot version!). When I’ve been spiritually lost at sea, it’s “For the mighty God has done great things for me,” allowing me to focus with gratitude on the many blessings and gifts I have in my life. The warning of complacency and blindness to others in the lines “he has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly” has often served as a wake-up call and helped me to tune in again to the needs of others. It really is a prayer that covers a multitude.
I was challenged a few years ago to write my own Magnificat but it’s a challenge I’ve yet to rise to. I feel it is too perfect a text to tamper with, and I doubt that I would do the original any justice. However, when I do write it, I hope it will be with the same understanding and graceful spirit as Mary had; that it will sing of God’s love for me and will honour and praise him as Almighty God. For with him all things are possible.
Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray for us.
Maire Gormley is the Director of Catechesis and Faith Mentor, Buncrana Parish, Diocese of Derry.
Image ‘Jump for Joy’ used with permission by Corby Eisbacher (Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing. Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)