Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Luke 1:42.
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St. John, the traditional author of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament from which today’s first reading is taken, must certainly be awarded for the strangest, most challenging, violent, and shocking book in the entire canon. Remember also that his gospel begins before time itself: “In the beginning was the Word….” and ends with this book, the apocalyptic battle between good and evil, the conclusion of all things. The modern mind must find it hard to grasp what on earth the whole thing is about, with demons and monsters. Today’s first reading has a lady giving birth in the most alarming situation imaginable, being threatened by a seven-headed fearsome dragon sweeping the stars of the heavens away with its tail! It reads more like a Hollywood script for superheroes and villains than sacred Scripture! The medieval Apocalypse tapestry preserved in the Château of Angers in France, pictures this scene literally (see above). Making sense of it all is not easy. Certainly the focus this Sunday is the Blessed Mother whose feast of the Assumption we celebrate today. That is to say, the church remembers that, uniquely among all mortals, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, sinless and incorruptible. Recall that the wages of sin is death; many believe that Mary, the sinless one, could therefore not suffer death, the reason why this feast is sometimes referred to as the Dormition of the Virgin, or “falling asleep” of the Virgin. This is the message of today’s second reading. Mary, the new Eve, accepted God’s will for her, no matter the consequences, and cooperated fully with the challenging plan God had made for her and her child. Today’s first reading attempts to portray the challenge that this presented to the Evil One, and the effort to destroy God’s plan. This was utterly unlike the first Eve, who disobeyed God and brought evil crashing down upon herself and each of us; and remember we are all Eve in that we have all disobeyed God in one way or another.
Then there is today’s gospel. Mary had agreed to God’s plan for her, even though it must have seemed to the unmarried young woman that it left her open to disgrace, ridicule and being shunned by her community. Yet she agreed, to be protected by her new husband Joseph, who must have been equally overwhelmed by God’s plans when they were revealed to him. Despite all that, the gospel goes on to tell us that, hearing that her cousin Elizabeth was with child (“she who was thought to be barren” Luke 1:36), Mary dropped everything to visit her relative to support and help her, despite the challenging time that God had wished upon Mary herself. Yet this young Jewish girl was putting first things first; Elizabeth was older than she, and Mary guessed Elizabeth’s need was the greater. Once she had been assured that Elizabeth appeared to be in good spirits and health, Mary rejoiced in the words of the Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” and declaring that “…from this day all generations will call me blessed…” which might seem strange to the modern eye, until you recall that “blessed” at root meaning means happy. Mary was rejoicing in the happiness that closeness to God brings to all of us. Nothing can be greater! And the second reading states the reality that there is no death in the reality of life with the Lord: So too in Christ shall all be brought to life... And even the first, scary, reading ends with the assurance that Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed One. All this is open to us if we but trust in the Lord, the goodness of God and the strength of our conviction that only in God are happiness, security and fulfillment to be found. Just as Mary was the first to tread this pathway of trust and love, so we too are invited to do the same. And as today’s readings show with unmatched clarity, despite every temptation, threat or evil, good prevails through all if we but let it and cooperate with it.
Revelation 8:1, the Lamb Breaks the Seventh Seal. The Apocalypse Tapestry 14th century, Château d’Angers, Loire Valley, France.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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