An article for the All Souls Weekly, VIII:39, August 16, 2015.
The calendar in the front of the Book of Common Prayer lists August 15 as “Saint Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” The middle of August offers an opportunity for us to think about the place of the Virgin Mary in our church and in our faith. Roman Catholics refer to August 15 as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrating the extent to which Mary, as a model for us, has been brought into the full presence of God. The Orthodox churches observe this day as the Dormition, or “falling asleep” of Mary, the Mother of God. This day marks her real “birthday” as she dies to this world but rises again to newness of eternal life.
While Episcopalians’ sharing these feasts with other Christians might be a cause for joy among many, it also has raised concerns, especially among those from more Protestant backgrounds. In parts of our country, some have grown up knowing very few Roman Catholics, and Roman Catholicism itself was believed to be the superstitious faith of foreigners, those not like “us.” Happily, as Protestant churches have begun to worship in more catholic ways, and many Roman Catholics have begun to worship more like Protestants, some of this suspicion and mistrust has fallen away. I think Mary would be pleased.
The Bible portrays the Virgin Mary as a young girl who overcomes fear and doubt in order to follow God’s will. She is shown as a mother who suffers the pain of losing a son. But she is also shown as one who moves through her grief in order to continue serving God and helping to form the early Christian community.
One of the most helpful images for me is often captured in icons showing the Virgin Mary and Jesus. She is shown with one hand subtly pointing to her infant son, saying physically what she says at the wedding at Cana: Watch him. Listen to him. “Do whatever he tells you.” This is Mary’s primary message to us, regardless of how we might place her in our theology, in our prayers, or in our understanding of God’s ongoing presence with us, the point of it all is to follow and love Jesus the Christ. May the Blessed Virgin Mary continue to teach us and guide us.