Saturday, 08 May 2021

Mary’s heavenly homecoming

LAST weekend many parts of the Christian world celebrated the heavenly homecoming in body and soul of Mary, the mother of the Lord.

For Catholics across the world, the feast of the Assumption is one of relatively few midweek “holy days of obligation,” deemed to be as important as Sunday Mass.

The Orthodox world talks of the Dormition and its icons often depict Mary being borne on a litter to eaven by angels.

In recent decades, August 15 has returned to the Church of England’s calendar and is celebrated in many places.

One of the many themes in this loveliest of feasts is to meditate on what Christians mean by the word “home”.

Over the last few months we have heard the word “home” in many contexts. “Stay home” has been the sensible advice of the lockdown. How many of us have said, “We are staying at home this year” when asked about our holiday plans?

The terrible plight of the homeless during these months has only intensified, whether on our own streets or internationally.

Mary’s Assumption, however, reminds us that this world provides us with a passing home. As the poet said, “Here is no abiding city.”

On August 15 the Church celebrates Our Lady being bought home to Heaven by her son. Unlike Ascension Day, when Christ returns to his Father’s side as the Redeemer, Mary shows us what it is to be brought home to heaven as one of the redeemed.

“The Almighty works marvels for me” Mary sang in her Magnificat and the Church has sung and will sing those words at vespers every night of her life.

It is salutary to remember that our mediaeval ancestors spoke of “Our Lady in Harvest”.

It has been easy to reflect on this in recent weeks as the combine-harvesters and bailers have appeared again in our fields.

As the crops in the field grow to fruition and then are gathered into the barn, so Mary, at the end of her most fruitful of human lives, was gathered into the life of eternity.

So Christians are reminded that we are called to this life with our gaze fixed on another, greater, more lasting homeland. The life and worship of heaven are the touchstone of all that we do and are.

As an Anglican theologian of the Sixties put it, “The end of man is endless Godhead, endlessly possessed. For we are all heirs of everlastingness ...”

Or, in the image of a slightly earlier Catholic preacher, “One ship has rounded the headland, one destiny is achieved, one human perfection exists. And as we watch it, we see God clearer, see God greater, through this masterpiece of his dealing with [the human race.]”

• This column was to have been written by Mgr Antony Conlon. who died in April. A requiem mass for Fr Antony will be celebrated in the parish when it is possible to have larger congregations in church.

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