A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Mary in August

Fr Kevin Head sm

This month we celebrate Mary’s Assumption, and that Mary is Queen of heaven and earth. These two feast days fit well together. The twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation records that ‘A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head’ (Rev 12:1). The last verse of the previous chapter (11.19) speaks of the sanctuary of God in the heavens being opened, ‘and the Ark of the Covenant of God could be seen inside the sanctuary.’

Traditionally, the woman clothed with the sun is identified with Mary, the glorious Mother of the Son of the most high God, she who has been crowned Queen of heaven and earth. As well, one of Mary’s titles is ‘Ark of the Covenant,’ because she is Theotokos, the ‘God-bearer,’ the one in whom God lived on earth.

The earliest celebrations of Mary’s Assumption into heaven focussed on Mary’s death as a share in Christ’s paschal mystery. Before the beginning of the 5th century, the church in Jerusalem commemorated the ‘Dormition,’ or ‘falling asleep,’ of the Mother of God. The Eastern Church still uses the term ‘Dormition’ for this feast day.

Mary is a real person, living

in the present ...

In 8th century Rome, the feast came to be known as the Assumption. Using the images of a victory celebration and a bridal procession, Mary’s entry into heaven became explicit. She was ‘lifted up’ by God -- in the words of the alleluia verse for the feast, ‘Mary was taken up to heaven, and the angels of God shout for joy.’

The popular faith of the Church in Mary’s Assumption was confirmed by Pope Pius XII’s definition of the dogma of the Assumption in 1950. The definition does not state whether or not Mary died before being taken to heaven. It says simply that Mary is in heaven.

At the end of the first Mass that Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier celebrated in Aotearoa New Zealand, at Totara Point, the bishop dedicated the country to Mary under the title of her Assumption.

The New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference, in a pastoral letter in 1988 re-instating the Assumption as the patronal feast of Aotearoa New Zealand, stated:
“In dedicating New Zealand to Mary in her Assumption, Bishop Pompallier placed our country under the protection of Mary as she is now – alive, body and soul, rejoicing in the happiness of God’s kingdom.

“Mary is a real person, living in the present – not an historical personage who lived for a time, only to become a faint memory in the pages of history.

“Although we relate to Mary as she is now, living gloriously in heaven, she is still the same person that we find in the Gospels. The Blessed Virgin continues to ‘go before’ the people of God. Her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church, for individuals and for communities, for peoples and nations, and in a sense, for all humanity.” (Redemptoris Mater #6)

‘Where she has gone, we hope to follow.’ We do, indeed. 

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