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Festival of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord

Festival of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord
August 15

The Lord be with you

Today we celebrate the Festival of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord. She is mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, with nearly a dozen specific incidents in her life being recorded: her betrothal to Joseph (Matthew 1:18); the annunciation by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 26-38); her visitation to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer (Luke 1:39-45); the nativity of our Lord (Matthew 1:24-25; Luke 2:1-12); the visits of the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20) and Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-12); the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:22-38); the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15); the Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve (Luke 2:41-51); the wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11); her presence at the crucifixion, when her Son commended her to the care of His disciple John (John 19:25-27); and her gathering with the apostles in the Upper Room after the ascension, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Thus she is specifically referred to as being present at most of the important events in her Son’s life. She is especially remembered and honored for her unconditional obedience to the will of God (“Let it be to me according to Your word” [Luke 1:38]); for her loyalty to her Son even when she did not understand Him (“Do whatever He tells you” [John 2:1-11]); and above all for the highest honor that heaven bestowed on her of being the mother of our Lord (“Blessed are you among women” [Luke 1:42]). According to tradition, Mary went with the apostle John to Ephesus, where she died. (Some traditions say she lived and died in Jerusalem and “a tomb of the Virgin” is in the Kidron Valley.) This feast celebrates her life in general and, specifically, her blessed death.

In the person of the Virgin Mary, the Church has long seen an image of itself. This is probably the idea behind Revelation 12:1-6, where the woman can be understood as both the Virgin Mary and the Church. Not only is Mary seen as representing the Church because the Church bears Christ in the world, but also she is a model of what each Christian ought to be: prayerful, humble, joyfully submissive to the will and word of God, devoted to her Son and loyal to him even when she did not understand him.

The earliest feasts celebrating Mary’s death were observed in Palestine from the fifth century, possibly at Antioch in the fourth century. The date of August 15, ordered by the emperor Maurice (582-603), probably originated with the dedication of a church in her honor. By the sixth century the observance of the date of August 15 was widespread in the East, and the feast day gradually became known as the Feast of the Dormition, the “Falling Asleep,” or passing from this life, of the Virgin. In the seventh century this feast day was observed in Rome, and from there it spread throughout the West. By the ninth century the feast had been transformed from remembering the death of Mary to the Feast of the Assumption (referring to the legend of the reception of Mary’s body and soul into heaven in anticipation of the general resurrection of the bodies of all the dead on the Last Day.) This idea first appeared in late fourth century New Testament apocrypha writings and was made official Roman Catholic dogma in 1950.

In Roman Catholic and Easter Orthodox circles, it is believed that Mary was “ever Virgin.” That is to say, she remained a virgin her entire earthly life. Most Protestants (but not all) consider this to be either an “open question” or that Mary and Joseph had a normal married life after the birth of Jesus. Most Protestants will probably be surprised to learn that the concept of the perpetual virginity of Mary reaches back to the second century. The Church was teaching (and still does teach) that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. This was one of the proofs that Jesus was the Son of the Father. The opponents of the Church laughed at that. Virgins don’t have babies. Clearly, they asserted, Mary either fooled around or was raped. Therefore Jesus wasn’t the Son of the Father, just an illegitimate child. The defenders of the Church countered that the attackers were wrong because Mary had remained a virgin her whole life. In other words, the teaching about the perpetual virginity of Mary wasn’t about her at all. It was about Jesus and who he is. I am one who considers this an “open question,” though most likely Mary and Joseph went on to have normal marital relations. Accept it or not, as you are persuaded. Just remember, no matter where you come down on this question, the central issue is always Jesus, the eternal Son of God.

Prayer: Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Other appropriate prayers include:

• For the poor and the forgotten
• For a deeper understanding of the mystery of the incarnation
• For the gift of glad obedience to the word of God
• For faithfulness to Christ
• For humility

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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