August - In Celebration of the Feast of the Assumption
Patrick Kavanagh called himself a parochial poet, which he saw as the opposite of being a provincial one. The provincial one is always looking over his shoulder at what they’re saying in the capital, while, as Monsignor Tom Stack in his fine No Earthly Estate: God and Patrick Kavanagh quotes him saying, ‘Parochialism is universal: it deals with fundamentals’ (18). That helps to explain why Mary, who happily praised God for lifting up the lowly, seems to prefer showing up in unfashionable and remote places like Lourdes, Fatima and Knock.
So I was delighted to see the ICCA open its chapter on Mary with the story of her appearance in the parish of Knock. Her message there couldn’t have been clearer: the intimacy of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was to burst into universal history through the worldwide family of Jesus, Mary and John. Just as Mary is the Mother of God at Bethlehem, she becomes the Mother of the Church – as Pope Paul VI named her at the end of the Second Vatican Council – at the Cross and in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit fires up the Apostles.
Bishop Brendan Leahy’s study, The Marian Profile, brings out this growing understanding of Mary’s role in the Church, based on theologian von Balthasar’s definition of the different profiles or aspects of the Church, where St Peter’s role continues in its Petrine aspect, St John’s in its Johannine aspect, and Mary’s in its Marian aspect. Saint John Paul II could even say that ‘Mary is before everyone else, and obviously, Peter himself and the apostles’. Agreeing, Pope Benedict XVI said the Marian principle was ‘more originary and fundamental’ than the Petrine (=hierarchical) one because ‘All, in the Church, every institution and ministry, even that of Peter and his successors, is “included” under the mantel of the Virgin, in the space full of grace of her “yes” to the will of God.’
Brendan Leahy also gives von Balthasar’s comment on just how essential this Marian element is in the Church: ‘Without the Marian presence, Christianity is in danger of becoming inhuman … of becoming functionalist, without a soul … a masculinized world … where everything becomes polemic, critical, bitter, without humour, and in the end, boring, a Church people leave in big numbers.’ So we very much need Mary, not only as a devotion, but as a guiding presence – you could say that Gerald Manley Hopkins’ beautiful poem, ‘The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe’, is the recipe for all of us in the Church today: she must be as near to us as the air we breathe.
Coming back to that wonderful parochial–universal message of Knock, Italian philosopher and theologian Giuseppe Zanghí sees Mary as the high point of all creation, who in her Immaculate Conception is the image of Eden, the sinless perfection of love God originally planned for the whole human race. In her Assumption into heaven, she’s already the embodiment of the Omega point God wants for the whole created universe.