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8/12/2004
WORD OF FAITH
Mary's prayer and us
REV. ROGER KARBAN


Feasts that commemorate events not found in Scripture - like the Assumption on August 15 - always create problems for homilists who are trying to be faithful to the liturgical readings.

On Sunday, for instance, those who aren't sensitive to the scriptural message will surface Mary everywhere, even in the psalm antiphon that speaks about a "queen" standing at the king's right hand, ignoring the fact that the queen in Psalm 45 is actually the hated Jezebel!

It's even tempting to find Mary in the first reading (Rev 11:19, 12: 1-6, 10). Who else can the author be describing when he mentions "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars?"

Scripture scholars remind us that, in this context, the woman isn't Jesus' mother; it's Jesus' church. The Christian community is the woman who continually gives birth to Jesus, then must flee to "the desert" to escape the frequent diabolic persecutions with which it had to deal in its early days.

Mary's place

Our Catholic traditions have also encouraged us to insert Mary at the head of the symbolic heavenly line which Paul describes in the second reading (I Cor 15: 20-27). "For just as in Adam all die," he writes, "so, too, in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at His coming, those who belong to Christ."

Reading the whole selection, it's evident Paul doesn't extend special privileges to anyone. All followers of Jesus are equal.

If we're going to homilize on Mary on the Assumption, there's only one reading that directly mentions her: Luke's Gospel (Lk 1: 39-56).

Some bishops during Vatican II tried to get an individual document drawn up on the Blessed Virgin. After a short debate, the majority of bishops voted not to create a special document on Mary, but to add a chapter to the Decree on the Church, honoring her as the "type" or "example" of the Church.

In so doing, they were following Luke's lead. He constantly depicts Mary in his Gospel as the perfect disciple of Jesus: the one person who always can be counted on "to hear God's word and carry it out."

The evangelist uses Elizabeth to present his Marian theme in the Gospel. "Blessed are you," she proclaims, "who believe that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

Mary's prayer

It's against the background of hearing, believing and carrying out God's word that we should listen to Mary's famous "Magnifi-cat" which comprises half of the reading. By placing a prayer into Mary's mouth that scholars believe existed long before Jesus, Luke is encouraging us to "keep the faith" even when we don't feel worthy to profess the faith.

We, like Mary, are the lowly servants who have received God's mercy, the hungry who have been filled with good things. No matter who we are, God always calls us to go beyond our fears and limitations to reach heights we could have never before imagined.

Through the centuries, some of us have placed Mary on a pedestal far higher than any of our sacred authors could have supposed. We've even given her qualities and prerogatives they reserved only to Jesus, things no ordinary human being can ever emulate.

It's Luke's contention that Mary's determination to hear and carry out God's word is at the heart of who she is and we should be. He knows nothing of the traditional role we've given her: the major intercessor with God on our behalf.

Perhaps the reason we've ignored Luke's insight - and for centuries replaced it with our own non-biblical traditions - revolves around one fact: Following this theology places us squarely on the hook; following ours places Mary on the hook.

(8/12/04)












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