There is an ever growing interest in fantasy literature, in magical and enchanted stories, whether about Harry Potter or Narnia or the Lord of the Rings. Bookshops are heaving with fantasy novels as well as science fiction and other kinds of imaginative writing. The human desire for enchantment is a desire for other levels of life, that there might be other possibilities for humanity.
Today’s Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, of her being taken up body and soul to the glory of Her Son’s eternal Kingdom, meets this desire in us for a level of life that transcends the ordinary realities, a thirst for something beyond the reality we experience right now, the things easily understood and manipulated by us. Fantasy speaks to our sense of wonder about hidden mysteries.
For example, the first reading from the Book of Revelation, presents us with a dramatic story worthy of the latest Dan Brown novel. The Book of Revelation is full of symbols, perfect for nourishing the artistic and poetic imagination. And the symbolism is easy to interpret and understand: the newborn child represents Christ and the woman who gives birth represents Mary. But she also symbolises the Church, the community of the followers of Christ, who are destined to follow a difficult road in this world. And how the imagination thrills at an adventure, a quest, a search for hidden treasure. The road is rich with possibilities but it’s also dangerous and there are many obstacles to be overcome. It’s a work of the apocalyptic imagination but it’s a true fantasy, if we can put it like that, it’s an accurate diagnosis of the situation of the Christian in the material world, of the promise which is our treasure, and of the dangerous adventures along the way.
In the second reading Saint Paul teaches us that the new life, the life of the resurrection, already established in Jesus Christ in the moment of his own resurrection: this new world and new creation is not just for Our Lord but has been won by him for us. The grace of the Christian faith is this: to accept the promise of a level of living which reaches beyond our imagination. The Assumption of Mary is the guarantee of this: the new creation is not just for Christ but for all who belong to him, in the first place Mary who is next to him in all things, but also to all God’s people. Mary, as we hear in the Preface of today’s Mass, is ‘a sign of hope and comfort for God’s people on their pilgrim way’.
The gospel includes Mary’s great prayer, the Magnificat, in which she praises God for all His graces. Our Lady is a unique individual with a unique role in the unfolding of God’s plan for the redemption of the world. But she is ‘full of grace’ and is also a symbolic figure, representing the Church and all who are with her in the Church. Again, the Preface of the Mass speaks of her as ‘the beginning and pattern of the Church in its perfection’. Symbolizing and realizing this perfection she is quite rightly called ‘Mother of the Church’.
Already during this pilgrimage to the land sought by the Christian imagination, we see signs of the new creation, sparks of the glory that is to come, premonitions of the dawn. Wherever there is compassion, work for justice and peace, care of the poor, unexpected generosity, faithful love, spontaneous and creative benevolence: in all of this we detect the presence of the Holy Spirit, for these are the effects of God’s life-giving love. Our Lady, whose following of her Son was marked by all these things, is the most beautiful creation of the Holy Spirit, and is, as St. Luke describes her: ‘the highest honour of our race’.
For the moment these signs and sparks encourage us to continue and to persevere on our own pilgrimage. The full and clear revelation is yet to come. In the meantime we continue to thirst, we continue to desire and to imagine, living in the hope of the resurrection that is still to come. In this we are comforted and strengthened beyond measure by the prayers and the example of Our Lady, already assumed into heaven – she who is our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.