Our Gospel for the Feast of the Assumption is the Lukan story of the VISITATION. In the oriental Church tradition, this encounter between two pregnant women is made into an icon of the meeting of the two Testaments or Covenants: old and new.
On the one hand we have the old woman Elizabeth (representing the OT), pregnant with the prophet John who reminds Israel to return to the Covenant by being faithful to God’s commandments. On the other hand we have the young woman pregnant with Jesus, the personification of the New Covenant.
The narrative comes in two parts: first, Elizabeth’s Greeting, welcoming Mary and extolling her as the Blessed One on account of the Blessed Fruit of her womb; and second, the Mary’s response to Elizabeth, the Magnificat, pointing at God as the Source of all Blessing.
Mary, the Blessed One comes as a Blessing to Elizabeth. In the prayer we have immortalized in the Rosary, the words of Elizabeth welcoming Mary’s visitation follow after the words of the angel Gabriel’s visitation to Mary.
The visiting angel calls Mary: “Full of Grace, the Lord is with You.” And because she has welcomed the Lord in her life, she overflows with grace. Because God has visited her through the Angel, now she perpetuates that visitation by sharing it to Elizabeth, and to the rest of the world.
The second part of the Hail Mary contains the words of Elizabeth: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Elizabeth recognizes in Mary the New Eve: blessed among women, and the bearer of Grace (the fruit of her womb). What she brings to humanity is not the curse of sin but the blessing of eternal life. She recognizes in Mary the ark of the new covenant by calling her the “Mother of my Lord”.
The fruit of her womb is the fulfillment of the covenant because in the child in her womb, the covenant is fulfilled. Humanity and divinity are now united in the one person of her Son who is truly divine and truly human.
He is the Gift Mary has received because she has responded in faith. He is also the Gift Mary now generously gives and shares to the World, beginning with Elizabeth. Mary, the New Eve, is therefore portrayed by St Luke as the Blessed One who invited us to let our lives overflow with Grace, meaning, to live them generously.
One of the marks of true generosity is the capacity to anticipate others’ needs—which is why Mary is visiting Elizabeth. Imagine having dinner in a restaurant and the waiter is there at your service before you’d even call for him, or you’ve barely lifted your empty glass for a refill of water and he’s already there beside you pouring it in.
This is the kind of portrayal that we get of Mary in the story of the visitation. She comes unbidden, as a welcome surprise in the home of Elizabeth, just when Elizabeth needs her.
It is often humiliating enough for the poor to have to beg for what they need; it is even more humiliating when the prospective benefactor makes them wait endlessly or makes them come back on another day or at another time, just to rub in the beneficiary’s mendicant position and lack of choice. They are expected to be profuse in their gratitude for receiving left-overs, used clothes, small change. After all, beggars can’t be choosers, right? Wrong.
This capacity to anticipate a need seems to be consistent with Mary’s portrayal even in John’s story of the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11). She notices the need before it is even brought to her attention because of sheer sensitivity and compassion. To be a blessing to others because we have been blessed is the true spirit of this narrative of the visitation.
Mary’s response, Magnificat
And now we move to Mary’s response to Elizabeth who calls her the Blessed One. In vv. 46-56 she sings her MAGNIFICAT. She begins by extolling the greatness of the Lord. The equivalent prayer in Islam is: “Allah Hu’ ‘Akbar!” This is the prayer that is chanted by muezzins from the towers of mosques, calling people to prayer.
How sad, that this beautiful prayer has come to be associated with the terrorist exclamation before a suicide bombing or a violent shooting spree or a terrorist attack. It is actually a prayer shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. It is the gist of what Mary proclaims at the start of her famous Magnificat, our Gospel for today. She says it in another language, of course, but it means basically the same thing: “How great indeed is the Lord!”
Luke gives us a portrait of Mary as a woman of faith. Her yes to God’s call was a mere response to God’s graciousness not just to herself but to the whole Israelite nation. Her canticle is therefore a kind of litany extolling in what ways God has indeed manifested his greatness in her people’s history: He is MERCIFUL, JUST, AND FAITHFUL.
He hears the cry of the poor. He is not an indifferent God who is just watching us from heaven. He is compassionate; he feels the pain of those who suffer unjustly. He is involved in our history.
His justice is not vengefulness or wrath. He casts down the arrogant and lifts up the lowly not in order to reverse their roles, not to make new tyrants of former slaves, but in order to sit them with each other as equals, as brothers and sisters sharing in a common dignity as creatures in God’s image and likeness.
He keeps his promises; He is true to His Word. And he expects no less from us. He expects us to live in holiness, which, in practical terms is about living in wholeness or integrity, that we be men and women of one word: thought, speech, and action.
On this day that we celebrate Mary’s lifting up to heaven, we are given full assurance that in her, we see an anticipation of the fullness of glory that awaits us, if we learn to live up to the greatness of the God who made us in His image and likeness! That image and likeness is fully revealed to us in the Son of God, the FRUIT OF HER WOMB. We pray to her, asking for adoption so that God’s true plan for us might be fulfilled: that we may all become his sons and daughters.
It is what we pray at the conclusion of the rosary: it is what follows after Assumption, the crowning of Mary and our sharing in that glory. Therefore we call “Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.” And we, we acknowledge our sinfulness and need for God’s mercy as “poor banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”
We address her as “Clement, Loving, Sweet Virgin” and ask her to turn her eyes of mercy upon us, begging her that at the hour of our death, meaning, at the end of our exile in this valley of tears, she show unto us the Blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus.
“Ark of the New Covenant” is a homily delivered by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, Luke 1:39-58