Assumptions about the Assumption

Dalit Mother by Jyoti Sahi
Dalit Mother by Jyoti Sahi

A Reflection on Mary on the Feast of the Assumption by Deborah Rose-Milavec

Like many Catholic women, I have struggled with some of the imagery surrounding Mary of Nazareth.  Was she a doormat?  A “yes” woman?  A docile, passive type – who obeyed rather than questioned?

As a youngster, I loved Mary and without question and absorbed all the stories about her.  But as I grew into young adulthood, her flawlessness started to trouble me.  As a young mother sitting in church with four little children and a baby in my lap, I wondered what I could possibly have in common with this perfect specimen of a woman.  A virgin and a mother?  How could I relate to that?  Conceived without sin?  What did that mean?  Assumed into heaven?  How?  The Mary who had so easily been part of my heart, now seemed distant and more alien to me.

My journey to understand Mary mirrors what many other Catholic women have struggled to understand.  Because of modern biblical scholarship and feminist scholarship in particular, we know that Mary’s image, more than any other, has been shaped within a patriarchal narrative and promulgated to define women’s roles and place of women in the Church.

Thankfully, scholars like Elizabeth Johnson, Judith Davis, Jeanette Rodrigues, Mary Christine Athans, Rosemary Radford Ruether and others have begun re-sorting who Mary is in our salvation history.  They have unearthed a historical, incarnate Mary who struggled with and was empowered by her God.  In a relationship that was fierce and yet, tender; unnerving and yet, irresistible; (s)heroic and yet, available to all – Mary held together the dismal realities of her people and her belief that God wanted something more for them.

Mary no “yes” woman.  Yet, she did say “yes” to the God who called her to speak prophetically for those who were oppressed.   Like the mothers in Palestinian refugee camps, the women raped in Iraq, those fleeing violence in South Sudan, or those making a life in the slums of Nairobi, she knew God stood against those who used their power to oppress and exploit and stood with those who were deprived of their dignity and life because of that abuse.  It was a truth she proclaimed to her community and taught to her son.

And after a long and faithful life to God, did she die?  How did we arrive at the story of the Assumption?

The Assumption, like many other stories in our Marian tradition will be explored in FutureChurch’s newest educational series that will be launched in time for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 2015.

But you do not have to wait in suspense.  In FutureChurch’s Advent packet, Judith Davis, PhD, sketches out the complex history of the Assumption story and how it arose to a place of prominence in our tradition.  On this feast day we have made this essay available for you to download for free.  CLICK HERE to download this informative resource.

Beyond all dogma, Mary remains, in Elizabeth Johnson’s words, one of the cloud of witnesses, a “friend of God and prophet” and “truly our sister.”