Reflection on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Revelation 11:19; 12:1-10 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 Luke 7:39-56
When I rose early this morning, my Amaryllis had opened two glorious red blooms in the night. One is surely in celebration of Sister Bernie Feeney and the second celebrates the passage of our dear Sister Jean Johnson, from death into new life at dawn this morning.
Today is indeed a special day for the Loretto Community. “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by God would be fulfilled.” We gather on this feast of Mary especially to celebrate Sister Bernie’s faithfulness and God’s faithfulness to her. Bernie was received on Aug. 15; she made her first vows on another Aug. 15, and her final vows on a third Aug. 15. It has been our practice from the beginning to use the reception date as the beginning of membership. So, it is Bernie’s reception date, Aug. 15, 1946, from which we number her 75 years as a Sister of Loretto.
Bernie follows in a long tradition that began when Loretto’s earliest members made vows in the little log church of St. Charles.
Our first Sisters — Mary Rhodes, Christina Stuart and Ann Havern — began what we would call their novitiate in 1812. In the summer of 1812, they received Mary’s sister Ann, Ann Havern’s sister Sarah, and Nellie Morgan into their tiny community. Ann Rhodes died in December, making her vows on her deathbed. The remaining five made their first and only vows on Aug. 15, 1813, in the little log church of St. Charles.
Was Aug. 15 a feast of Mary in 1813? Is that why it was chosen as the day for the dedication of vows? I checked one of the Missals used by Father Nerinckx, to find out whether Aug. 15 was then the feast of the Assumption. Indeed it was, and had been since 400 AD. Our first sisters were purposeful in choosing a Marian feast as the day to publicly declare their personal dedication.
We know that Father Nerinckx had urged the Loretto women to dedicate themselves to Jesus suffering and to Mary sorrowing. Nerinckx himself composed Loretto’s earliest prayer and penned it onto the first page of the first rule, “O Suffering Jesus! O Sorrowful Mary!” And as soon as the buildings were ready at Little Loretto, Father Nerinckx placed his own statue of Mary in the Sisters’ chapel — the very statue which stands in our Blessed Sacrament chapel.
From the beginning of Loretto, and from the beginning of each of our lives in Loretto, we have dedicated ourselves as companions with Mary beneath the Cross, letting our hearts be joined with hers in being pierced by the suffering of the Body of Christ. Has that meant we live glum, sad lives, consumed by sorrow? Hardly. Lorettos have ever had a reputation for joy and good humor. Maybe that’s because we make and renew our vows on the feast that celebrates the triumph of mercy and love over sorrow in Mary’s and our lives.
The Book of Revelation pictures in fantastic allegory what every Loretto proclaims by a life of simple faith, that Jesus who hung on the Cross is no longer dead, he has risen in power. Mary’s son has triumphed over suffering and death. Love prevails in believing hearts across the world today. So we loving friends of Mary, we who let our hearts be moved by the suffering of our neighbors, find strength in the power of love. Like Mary, we proclaim that God does great things in us, and through us.
The Gospel of today’s feast rings with these words of Mary’s Magnificat, her song of faith and grateful praise which generations of Lorettos have echoed on their vow day. Luke’s Gospel gives us two pictures: First, he describes in tender detail the companionship of Mary and Elizabeth, foretelling the supportive companionship among generations of believing women, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by God would be fulfilled.” Then Luke goes on to picture Mary proclaiming the greatness of God, the mercy and strength and faithfulness of God acting in her own life and in the lives of her people. This surely was the graced awareness and the grounding that strengthened Mary at the foot of the cross. God’s faithfulness is just as surely the grounding and graced awareness that strengthens each of us as we keep company with the poor and struggling, the distressed and needy, those whose sufferings pierce our hearts.
So we see that this feast of the Assumption was Loretto’s beginning feast as it were, and part of our personal Loretto beginnings. In a way it can also be our legacy feast. Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross, let us pray that Loretto, like Mary, will be called blessed by generations to come, who celebrate what God has done in us.