‘[Mary is] a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people.’ (Preface of the Assumption)
For the Italians, the Solemnity of the Assumption on 15 August is a well-loved and well-honoured feast – not least because it falls in the middle of what can be the hottest month. Not for nothing do they speak of ‘fer Agosto’ – the iron heat of August – and so the Assumption can be an opportunity for a much-needed extra day of rest, and perhaps a trip to the seaside or an extra ice cream!
Our devotion for and love of Mary does not turn her into a goddess to be worshipped, but acknowledges her powerful example, inspiration and intercession for us on our journey of faith and life. She is ‘the handmaid of the Lord’, the one who acknowledges that ‘the Almighty has done great things for me and Holy is His Name’ and who encourages us to echo her words of thanksgiving – not just by the words of our mouths but by the ‘words in action’ of our Christian living.
The unique privileges of Mary do not distance her from us but make her that motherly and compassionate presence at the heart of God’s faithful people. Perhaps that is one reason why Pope Francis instituted an annual Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, on the Monday after Pentecost, ‘encouraging the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety’ (Congregation for Divine Worship, 2018).
England was traditionally known as the Dowry of Mary and whether it is in our churches dedicated to Saint Mary (later Our Lady) – places of pilgrimage such as Fernyhalgh near Preston, Walsingham in East Anglia, Our Lady of the Assumption at Aylesford – we rejoice in a rich heritage of Marian devotion.
On the Feast of the Assumption, therefore, perhaps it is a good opportunity to echo again one of the earliest prayers to the Blessed Virgin:
‘Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Mother of God:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.’