Mary: Fully Alive
The third-century bishop of Lyon, St. Irenaeus, is famously credited with teaching that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” By that, he meant that God receives His fullest glory from us when we have embraced completely the divine image and likeness in which we are made and that we live openly as reflections of that glorious image. Understanding the incredible destiny of our humanity and living up to it reflects God’s glory. To fully realize our purpose in life means to show forth the greatness of God.
As we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we hear of a heavenly vision from the Book of Revelation: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” What a glorious vision! This is truly a woman “fully alive,” reflecting the glory of God Himself. And this is our Mother Mary – the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. A woman fully alive.
Elizabeth also understands the wonder that is in front of her; except, she is not staring at a heavenly vision. She is not in some ethereal ecstasy. Rather, she is standing before her kinswoman – a humble maid from Nazareth. However, even in that humility, Mary is a person fully alive. Here she is, pregnant with the Son of God, the Messiah. Elizabeth voices what we might also say in the presence of the Mother of God: “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Mary, fully alive, aware of the amazing act of salvation that God is accomplishing in her and through her Baby, is the glory of God. And to prove it, she enters into prayer for us: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” There, the glory of God shines forth through the absolute humility of Mary.
So, even as we celebrate the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this feast day is actually about the glory of God. Mary’s “Magnificat” is our song proclaiming great things that God has done for us. In sending us His Son Jesus, God has destroyed the power that sin and death have over us, restored us to friendship with Himself, and given us an eternal destiny of glory – a destiny that Mary not only shares with us, but one that she already enjoys. She is our hope – a reminder that God has prepared a place for us as well, and that our vocation is also to be people fully alive, showing forth the glory of God in our world.
Each evening, as the Church prays Her evening prayer, we proclaim the Magnificat – every day. It is a prayer, a hymn, and a prophecy. In praying this prayer of Mary, we are realizing what being fully alive really is – like a perfectly cleaned stained glass window, allowing the glory of the sun not only to shine through it but also to reveal the beauty and glory of the glass itself. When God shines through Mary – when God shines through you – she is seen as the perfect creation that she is. The glory of God is Mary fully alive, and we see that today as she allows God’s greatness to be seen in her.
Pope St. John Paul II taught, “In the Eucharist the Church is completely united to Christ and his sacrifice and makes her own the spirit of Mary. This truth can be understood more deeply by re-reading the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key. The Eucharist, like the Canticle of Mary, is first and foremost praise and thanksgiving. When Mary exclaims: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,’ she already bears Jesus in her womb. She praises God ‘through’ Jesus, but she also praises him ‘in’ Jesus and ‘with’ Jesus. This is itself the true ‘Eucharistic attitude.’
“At the same time Mary recalls the wonders worked by God in salvation history in fulfilment of the promise once made to the fathers, and proclaims the wonder that surpasses them all, the redemptive incarnation. Lastly, the Magnificat reflects the eschatological tension of the Eucharist. Every time the Son of God comes again to us in the ‘poverty’ of the sacramental signs of bread and wine, the seeds of that new history wherein the mighty are ‘cast down from their thrones’ and ‘the lowly are lifted up,’ take root in the world. Mary sings of the ‘new heavens’ and the ‘new earth’ which find in the Eucharist their anticipation and in some sense their program and plan. The Magnificat expresses Mary's spirituality, and there is nothing greater than this spirituality for helping us to experience the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat!