If you’re called Mary, happy Name Day! This Cathedral is dedicated to St. Mary in her Assumption. So, let’s wish it and ourselves and our parish a happy Name Day, and ask our Lady to continue to keep care of this church and parish, its clergy and people.
Today’s Gospel recalls the story of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, the second joyful mystery of the Rosary. And what stands out in that Gospel is Mary’s Magnificat. Countries have their national anthems, teams have their songs, cooks have their signature dishes, people have their party pieces. Mary has her Magnificat. According to the Gospel, it poured out of her heart that day in the hill country of Judah, in the house of Zechariah, in response to Elizabeth’s welcome of her. Mary was a young woman then. She had just given her ‘yes’ to the message of the angel. She had conceived by the Holy Spirit. She was freshly pregnant with the Messiah, the Son of God. There’s no mention of early morning sickness! She was full of joy, and she realised something new was afoot. The Lord had looked at her, a nobody humanly speaking. He was fulfilling the ancient prophecies: ‘He has come to the help of Israel his servant.’ Things were being stood on their head: ‘He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things.’ God had, as it were, voted for the little people. He was ‘mindful of his mercy’, and the doors of the Kingdom of God were swinging open and Mary could already see the nobodies, the poor in spirit, the humble, the pure in heart, the scattered children of God entering in. A new way of being human was becoming possible. All of that is in the Magnificat, and St Luke has Mary say all this at the beginning, like an overture to his Gospel. She had grasped who this child in her womb was and what he was bringing into the world. For St Luke, she’s the first Gospel-person, as it were, a beginning of the new creation. The Magnificat is, in fact. the first song of the New Testament, its first outbreak of prayer and praise. And we are meant to think of it, not as a one-off, not just Mary having a good day, as it were. It was her signature tune, the song of her life. That’s why the liturgy replays it today, on the feast of her Assumption. Today, once again, as she’s taken up body and soul into the Kingdom of heaven, to the joy of the angels, praise fills the air. What began as a solo, or perhaps a quintet, in the presence of Elizabeth and Zechariah and the children in the wombs, now goes symphonic, choral, cosmic. Today her Son comes for her, the Father welcomes her, the Holy Spirit launches her on the life of heaven. Today Christ’s risen life overcomes her mortal life and fills it with the power of his Resurrection. And our future is glimpsed: ‘Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him’, as St Paul has it. Death will be no more. And Mary, in spirit and soul, is now all Magnificat, all Alleluia, all praise.
But behind this, there is something else as well. The Magnificat is public. It was liturgy really. The Magnificat of her Assumption is public too: ‘in the presence of the angels I will bless you’. But behind this, there is something more intimate, more one-to-one with God. There were other words. Before that Alleluia, there came an Amen. Before the Magnificat, there was a Fiat. There was her response to God’s messenger at the Annunciation: ‘Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.’ And just as today her Magnificat reaches its full ripeness, so does her Fiat.
We can think of our lives as the Father offering us his Son Jesus Christ, over and over again, as sending him to us, as opening him up to us. And as he does so, he awaits our response. We are free, and if we are free enough to respond positively, Mary’s words are waiting for us: ‘I am the servant of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me.’ This year’s World Youth Day, in Panama in January, had this as its theme and its song. ‘Take my yes’ was another phrase used. Christ comes to us in persons and events, comes in the Gospels and the Sacraments, comes in the good things and the hard things. So it has gone on ever since his Resurrection. He came to Mary Magdalene, Peter and the others, the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, to so many believers and saints, all of us. And before that he came – he was offered, he was sent – to Mary. And she opened the door. She said, ‘Take my yes’. Not just once, not just then, but all through her life, sometimes in joy, sometimes in pain, on the way to Bethlehem, at Cana, under the Cross, at Pentecost. Here is the underground stream of her life, the hidden thread of her integrity. It was this constant Amen: ‘Be it done to me…Take my yes.’ And today, this disciple, this woman, who had gone through everything following her Son, the highs and the lows, the joys and the sorrows, today – as he comes to give her his glory – today she responds with her final ‘yes’. It must have been so simple, like a ripe fruit allowing itself to be taken from the tree, and yet she so amazed, so overwhelmed, all joy. And Amen and Alleluia were now all one. She was all Yes, and all praise. And so, by God’s grace, we will be too. It’s good for us to think how Christ will come to us, and how in whatever mixture of pain and peace there’ll be, we will say our Fiat, and it will break into joy.
And to end: Mary’s Yes includes us. She has entered into the full scope of Christ’s love, and that love includes us. Last night, an icon of what is called Tenderness caught my eye: that is, when the baby Jesus is resting his cheek against his mother’s. Perhaps to the eyes of the Trinity, that’s what we are, what the world is: a child crying in the night, not knowing what it wants but full of need, a child needing comfort. And today, sharing her Son’s glory, this poor child of a world is given this mother. She is ours. She is all ‘yes’ to us. She offers us her tenderness, a whole self and a full heart where we and our unhappiness can rest. So let’s say, with Mary and to her: ‘take my yes’. Amen! Alleluia!
(St Mary’s Cathedral Aberdeen, 15 August 2019)