Today is the Sunday in which Catholics commemorate the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and one of two traditions: that she rose from the dead after a brief period and then ascended into heaven; or, that she was “assumed” bodily into heaven before she died. Both traditions trace back to the second century AD.
Located just south of Rome, the Tre Fontane Trappist Abbey is presumed to be the place where Paul was martyred. Beside it is a grotto which, in 1947, became the setting of a modern-day event reminiscent of the “Saul-turned-Paul” story, an event which defined the dogma of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the basis of which had existed since the days of the early Christians.
Bruno Cornacchiola was every bit as zealous as Saul. He had abandoned his Catholic faith and while his children played in the park beside the abbey, he sat writing a speech, denying the existence of the Virgin Mary. In his pocket, hidden from view of his children, was a dagger on which he had written the words, “death to the Pope.” Cornacchiola had every intention on using it.
As he sat writing, he was suddenly aware that he could no longer hear his children as they played. He went to investigate, and discovered them on their knees at the entrance to the grotto, gazing at an apparition of Mary, who, reminiscent of Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus, said to him, “You are persecuting me — enough of it now!” She also gave Cornacchiloa a message to take to Pope Pius XII: “My body could not decay and did not decay. My Son and the angels took me to heaven.”
Cornacchiola’s life was transformed at that moment. He confessed to the Pope, including his intention of murder, and converted back to Catholicism. He remained devoted to Mary and the Catholic faith until his death in 2001. On November 1, 1950, Pius XII introduced the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, honouring the sinless nature of the mother of Jesus.
In the Magnificat, Mary sang praises to God upon learning that she would be the mother of the Saviour. Such a powerful promise from a young teenaged girl, and such an impossible ideal to live up to. She would endure pain that would be unbearable for any mother, and yet she would live up to every word. The nations would, indeed, call her blessed, and she has become a role model for all Christians.
Mary played an important role in God’s plan for our salvation. As Jesus hung on the cross, the blood that washed away sin was human blood, the blood of the human nature that He got from Mary. As His mother, she also became our mother, who helps us through her intercessions just as she did when they ran out of wine.
Of all those who followed Jesus, Mary was the most faithful – even more so than the twelve disciples and the other Mary, Mary Magdalene. She instructed the servants at Cana to do whatever He told them, she suffered more than we can imagine at Calvary, and she was present in the Upper Room at Pentecost.
It is safe to say that no other person who has ever lived served God with such devotion. She lived her life in sharp contrast to the lives we all lead at times. Three things that stand out about Mary are humility, submission, and obedience.
Mary referred to herself as the Lord’s servant, despite that fact that she had such an honour bestowed upon her. She knew that as an unwed teenaged mother she would be in a very difficult situation, and yet she submitted fully to God’s will. Mary’s song reflected her total submission to God. She showed no sign of ego. Throughout the Gospel narratives she was mostly silent, and from the moment she sat in the straw beside the manger until her heart broke at the foot of the cross, she obeyed quietly with no need to draw attention to herself.
Her faith never waivered, from the visit of the angel Gabriel to the birth of the church at Pentecost. She submitted fully to God, body and soul. Through her, we are able to share in Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. Through her we see that God is also faithful to us. The promise he made to Mary at the Annunciation was and continues to be fulfilled.