A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Solemnity of the Assumption

The Catholic bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand will gather at St Mary of the Angels Church in Wellington on Sunday 15 August for a Mass to renew Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier’s 1838 dedication of Aotearoa New Zealand to Our Lady Assumed into Heaven.

What follows is a section from the bishops’ statement of 24 May 1988, which marked 150 years since the dedication.

The full statement may be found at catholic.org.nz

And the Mother of Jesus was there

St Mary of the Angels Church, Wellington

For various reasons, external devotions to Mary seem to have fallen away in the years since the Second Vatican Council. To recall us to a proper appreciation of Mary and her role in the story of our salvation and in the life of the Church, Pope John Paul recently wrote a special letter: The Mother of the Redeemer in the Life of the Pilgrim Church (Redemptoris Mater). In it he directs our thoughts to the preparation made two thousand years ago in the person of Mary. By looking to her we can see how we too can prepare for the coming of the fullness of God's kingdom.

Pope John Paul II presents Mary as a model of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ.

Mary is an ageless figure in the life of the Church. She has always been there and she is still a powerful presence in the hearts of believers.

But devotion to Mary changes at different times and in different cultures. The Pope realises that the Marian piety of the past does not always speak so eloquently today. There is a need to present her in a fresh way to today's Christians.

By contemplating the Scriptures, and the living tradition of the Church, in the light of the world in which we live, we find that Mary still speaks in a voice in tune with our times, and we learn to show our devotion to her in words and symbols sensitive to our age.

In Mary, the Church has always seen a reflection of its own nature. The Church is the community of the Lord's disciples, a pilgrim people, journeying through time towards God's kingdom.

Mary has already made this journey. She embodies the goal of our own journey - a sign of hope to all who travel the same path of faith and continue the work of Christ today. For Mary is the Woman of Faith, the Disciple of Christ, and the Mother of the Lord.

In this year of Mary, we are reminded of the way she co-operated in the work of our salvation. We are called to co-operate with her in bringing that salvation to people everywhere.

But here in New Zealand we have an added reason for claiming 1988 as a Marian Year.

sumAssumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Into Heaven by Svitozar Nenyuk, pixels.com

One hundred and fifty years ago the first Mass celebrated on our soil by Jean Baptiste Pompallier, the first Catholic bishop to New Zealand, was offered in honour of Mary the Mother of God. It was a Saturday, 13 January 1838. At the conclusion of Mass, he dedicated our whole country to Mary under the title of her Assumption. Six years later, in 1844, Mary became the principal patron of New Zealand under the title, Help of Christians.

The significance of these symbolic beginnings should not be lost on us today.

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.

As Help of Christians, the greatest aid Mary can give is to show how to receive the Good News of Salvation and how to live a fully Christian life in the Spirit of her Son. For Mary is truly one of us.

A redeemed person like us -- although perfectly redeemed from the first moment of her existence -- she too had to live by faith. She knew hardship and sorrow, joy and peace. Things were not always clear to her and she had to ponder the mysterious ways of God in her heart (Luke 2:19,51). At times she did not understand and had to be brought to a new understanding by her Son (Luke 2:48-49; John 2:4).

Her faith, although never weakened by sin, was nevertheless like our faith -- a clinging to God even when the way was dark and fraught with pain.

The heart of Mary's faith is shown by St Luke. In his account of Jesus' great parable of the sower and the seed, he deliberately brings Mary into the story, just after Jesus had explained what the parable meant. His disciples were nonplussed and wondered what all the talk of seed falling on stony ground, among thistles, and on rich soil could mean.

Jesus patiently explains each image to them, ending with the description of the vocation of all Christians: "As for the seed in rich soil, this is people with a noble and generous heart, who have heard the word of God, taken it to themselves, and have yielded a harvest by their perseverance" (Luke 8:15).

Then Jesus holds his mother and family up as examples of "those who hear the word and put it into practice" (8:21). They are living examples of seed in rich soil.

And this indeed is the heart of Christian life - listening to what God is asking of us and then responding to it with all our heart. As Mary did. This is the secret of her holiness and the path we are called to follow if we are to be disciples like her. 

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