It’s not a holy day of obligation in my diocese, but because I had taken the day off work, I went to the noon mass today, which had about 4 times the usual number of attendees. There was a lily-ish white flower in front of the statue of our Lady. No musicians, so we sang a capella: the opening and closing songs were not Marian.
Listening to the first reading, I thought of Mary as the Ark of the Covenant, visible in the Temple. What I noticed about the last part of the sign in the sky of the woman with twelve crowns and the dragon with seven heads, when the child is born and taken up by God in safety, and the woman flees to the desert where she had a place prepared by God, is that this suddenly sounded like the story of Hagar, who was sent into the desert to die with her baby, to whom God sent an angel to provide water, and who eventually finds a place in which to live out the rest of her life safely. Hagar’s story is presented in elaborated form in the Qu’ran, and I believe that a re-enactment of her searching for a place in the desert is a traditional part of the Hajj.
I couldn’t remember what the gospel would be for the feast day, and I was pleased that it was the story of the visitation. When I was in high school, one of the catechists (a lovely irreverent woman from whom I learned that it was possible to be a devout Catholic with an irreverent sense of humor) pointed out that after the Annunciation, Mary was essentially a teenage girl who had turned up pregnant. And like pregnant teenagers to this day, she went or was sent off to a relative conveniently out of town. That made a lot of sense to me then. Today it additionally occurred to me that Mary might have made this visit to test the proof that the angel had offered her: that her older barren kinswoman was with child. I imagine her thinking, Maybe it was all my imagination. Maybe I’ll get there and Elizabeth will have no idea what I’m talking about; then I can relax and go back to my normal life. But if it is true — if it is, then… then at least I can ask Elizabeth, how do you cope with such a miracle? How do you reconstruct your life around such an intimate and life-changing divine action?
I imagine her planning what to say.. planning not to say anything, unless Elizabeth told her she was pregnant. And then, oh, then when she arrives, Elizabeth rushes outside to greet her and immediately confirms the angel’s message and speaks of the child in her own womb… and then it’s all real, and she is overwhelmed with joy.
The story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is one of my favorites.
During the sermon, when the priest was describing Mary as the vessel or the tabernacle of the Lord, I realized that’s not true, that’s not right. Those images present Mary as an empty space, in whose body Jesus came to dwell before being born. But Mary’s body is the locus of the Incarnation and the source of his human nature. The Creed says Jesus was consubstantial with the Father; but he was also consubstantial with Mary. It is of her flesh that his human flesh was formed. Mary is not just the God-bearer, but the human mother of the fully human Jesus: by the Holy Spirit, out of the Virgin Mary, he was made human.
For the first time I wondered, if Mary was “assumed into heaven body and soul”, which is distinct from the resurrection of the dead, then does that mean that she among all creatures will not receive a resurrected body after the Eschaton? Wouldn’t that be just like patriarchy, apparently honoring her above all others but then leaving her in a plain ordinary mortal body while everybody else gets a better one. Then I decided that a glorified body must be the same as a resurrected body, somehow, and felt better. Still, it’s interesting that I don’t remember ever being taught anything about this.
During and after communion, I was particularly aware of how, when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we take Jesus into our bodies in a way that is not so different from how Mary held him in her body.
We sang “Hail Mary, Gentle woman.” Twice. At preparation and at communion. It is beyond me why, if you don’t have guitarists that have to be able to play a guitar song on a Marian feastday, you would voluntarily choose that banal piece of work instead of a traditional Marian hymn; but, ah well. We did chant the Doxology and Great Amen, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Agnus Dei (in Latin, even!), so that was nice.
But I sang “Hail Holy Queen” as I walked back to my car after Mass.
ps – Today is the first anniversary of the death of my dear friend Mark. I prayed for him during the general intercessions. If your tradition supports prayers for the dead, please pray for him; and for his widow, his mother, and all those who loved him. Thank you.