Today we Anglican Catholics, along with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. On this feast, our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters celebrate the Dormition (or falling asleep) of Mary, the Theotokos, the God-bearer.
Although these feasts have different names, all of us celebrate mostly the same event. Today the catholic world celebrates the passing of the Mother of Our Lord from her earthly life to her heavenly glory.
One may ask: I thought I was in an Episcopal Church? Why are we celebrating this feast of popish idolatry?
Has the Vatican somehow started taking over central California since last week?
Designating August 15 (or today, the closest Sunday) as the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ is a new addition to the 1979 Prayerbook. Before then, the classic 1662 English Prayerbook and the 1928 American Prayerbook did not have a Marian feast in August. Until 1979, Mary was always commemorated in connection with Jesus in feasts like the Annunciation and the Purification of Mary (or what we know today as the Presentation of our Lord), but never as a stand-alone feast.
On one hand, and quite rightly, a festival of Our Lady is a festival of our Lord. When Mary is honored, it is Christ who is ultimately honored. To honor Mary without the Lord would be like honoring a painting whilst forgetting its painter. When the Church honors or commemorates Mary, or any of the saints, it is Christ who receives the glory. (cf. Galatians 6:14).
What do we gain as Anglican Catholics when remember Mary and her journey into Heaven?
One benefit of celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of Mary today is the companionship we gain with the early church. Today, we commemorate what the church has continually celebrated since at least the first 500 years of the church. A 6th Century manuscript, attributed to a 2nd Century Bishop is one of the earliest sources we have detailing the Mother of Jesus being taken up to heaven (see Transitus Mariae from Assumption: History of Doctrine, Sr. Isabell Naumann, ISSM).
The Book of Revelation, which from the time of Thomas Cranmer, Anglicans have tended pushed to the perimeter of the dance floor, includes an homage to a woman, “clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet” (Revelation 12). She brings forth the salvation of the world and the overthrowing of evil for good. Although not precisely our language, when we read with the eyes of the early church, we see Mary bringing forth the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ.
By the Middle Ages, the Assumption of Mary was well established and part of people’s liturgical devotions. Today, honoring the Virgin Mary with the feast of the Assumption is a pious practice found in many Anglo-Catholic churches.
Our celebration today connects us to that “great cloud of witnesses” of which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks (Hebrews 12:1). Today, the saints above see you doing what they did in their lifetime.
The Assumption of Mary is also the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to prepare a place for us, that where he is, there we may be also (cf. John 14:3).
One of the great documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council, called Lumen Gentium or Light of Nations, describes how, in Mary, we, God’s very own, will arise body and soul in the world to come. The council fathers wrote, “In the bodily and spiritual glory which she possesses in heaven, the Mother of Jesus continues in this present world as the image and first flowering of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come.” (LG 68).
God’s raising up of Mary’s body and soul in heaven is a foretaste of what we hope one day to enjoy--when we will be raised up in glory by the power of God, body and soul. The Assumption of Mary is the culmination of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We who are human will and even now, are being raised to the splendor and glory of God.
The companionship of the past and the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise.
Two reasons why today to honor the raising up of the Mother of Our Lord.
She is the supreme model of our humanity.
In her humility, she gave to God what he humbly received, that is the nature of a man.
When we call her our Mother, she is it in every sense, because through her the Son of Man and Son of God came to dwell. Because of her, when we see the face of a brother or sister in need or distress or in joy and in happiness, we gaze upon the face of Him who created us and imbued himself into his very creation.
It’s very fitting that today we rightly commemorate the mighty acts of God with a celebration of the Mass. As much as today’s events allow us time for reflection on the Blessed Virgin Mary, we also are drawn back to Christ through his Mother. Today, we are heirs of that catholic tradition and rightly commemorate and praise the One who has gifted us with grace to be called children of the Most High.
Feast of the Assumption
August 18 (15), 2019
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church
San Andreas, CA
Brother James Nathaniel, SSF can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org