Bread of Heaven, Born From the Virgin Mary Taken to Heaven
By Archbishop Francesco Follo
Rv 11,19a; 12, 1-6a.10ab; Ps 44; 1 Cor 15, 20-27a; Lk 1: 39-56 XX Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – August 16, 2015
Foreword. The Solemnity of the Assumption  on August 15, 2015, falls on a Saturday, therefore it is immediately followed by the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This Sunday’s Gospel proposes a passage in which the bread symbolizes not only the word of Jesus to be accepted by faith, but the sacrament of the Eucharist (Jn 6: 51-58). These are two solemnities that are centered on Mary into Heaven and Christ the Bearer of Heaven. For this reason I think that it is useful to present them together.
ASSUMPTION1) Mary, Ark of the Covenant – Eucharistic woman. I think that the Solemnity of the Assumption is the most important of the feasts of Our Lady, because the Church celebrates the mystery of our resurrection that in the person of Mary has already happened. Today’s feast shows us that Mary, the Virgin Mother, is the one who has lived her life entirely in Christ. The tradition, especially the one from the East, doesn’t talk about the death of Mary but about her “Dormition” that is, she does not end her life but fulfills it so that God “takes her to heaven.” With the celebration of the Virgin taken into heaven, the liturgy teaches us that the Mother of God is the human person that in heaven shares the fullness of glory and enjoy the happiness of God.
At the same time, the liturgy calls us to become “arks “of the living God who is always with us, and “dwellings “of the presence of God where men can meet him, thus living in communion with Him and knowing the reality of heaven. Today’s solemnity is a festival of joy, because love has won. Life has won. Love has been proved to be stronger than death. God possesses the true strength and his strength is goodness and love. The body of the Virgin Mary could not know the corruption of the grave because it had carried the Author of Life. Looking at that body, transfigured by the glory of God, we can guess the fate of our body. Death is not the last word on life. Death – the mystery of the Assumption of the Virgin assures us – is the passage to Life toward Love
The assumption is also our feast because it celebrates what we will be, what in us is yet to come but that certainly will come. It is therefore a joyous celebration of hope for all of us because in the Assumption we contemplate the fact that life does not end in nothing, but in God’s heart. This Heart is the destination toward which we go when we tie our lives to that of Jesus. Following Christ as did the Virgin Mary, we will be forever with Him in God because in God “there is room for mankind.” It is also true that in the human being there is room for God (Pope Francis). No one more than Mary made room for God so much so that one of the names by which we pray her is the “Ark of the Covenant.” Mary is the living Ark of the Covenant. Already St. John of Damascus (676-749) referring to this mystery, said in a homily “Today the One and Holy Virgin is led to the heavenly temple … Today the sacred ark animated by the Living God, [the ark] that led her unborn Maker, rests in the temple of the Lord, not built by human hands “(Homily II on the Dormition, 2, PG 96, 723), and continued” It was necessary that she who had hosted in her womb the Logos (Word) of God, took up residence in the tabernacles of his Son … It was necessary that the Bride that the Father had chosen lived in the bridal chamber of heaven “(ibid., 14, PG 96, 742).
Mary, the first tabernacle of the real presence of God in the world, is the new Ark of the Covenant in front of which the heart is filled with joy, the same joy that made John the Baptist leap in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary came to visit his mother in a small village Ain Karim, a few kilometers from Jerusalem. Mary, the Mother of God, teaches us not to keep for ourselves this Presence of heaven, but to offer it bringing the light of goodness into the darkness that is in the world. The Bread of Heaven shared between brothers and sisters is food for our exodus of love towards heaven.
2) Mary, Woman of the Eucharist. With the Assumption we celebrate the Mother of Christ, entering the heavenly Jerusalem to meet the face of the Father and the Son. The journey that she has started going to her cousin Elizabeth ends in heaven. For the record I must say that, in the journey of life, Mary never broke away from her son. At the beginning, after having given birth in Bethlehem, she fled with the baby Jesus to Egypt. Back at home in Nazareth she took him as a teenager to Jerusalem. In Nazareth for thirty years she contributed to his becoming an adult. Then she followed him when he left the village of Galilee to preach in the towns and cities of Israel. Finally she accompanied him to the cross, “suffering with her Son and associating herself with maternal heart to his sacrifice” (Lumen Gentium 58).
Being faithfully under the Cross, Mary is fully joined to the offering sacrifice of her Son. This way she lived, “a sort of early Eucharist, one might say a spiritual communion of desire and of oblation, that had its fulfillment in the union with the Son in his passion” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 56).
The gospel of this 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, in which Christ speaks of himself as living bread is well commented by the Gregorian antiphon believed and sung by the Church: “Ave Verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine” (Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary – XIV century) indicating the essential relationship of the Mother of Jesus in the Eucharist. No doubt the reference to Mary is the guarantor of the true belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. For example, when Berenger (+1088) proposed a symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist emptying the realism of the body of Christ, the Roman Council of 1079 ordered him to endorse the fact that the bread and wine after the consecration are “the true body of Christ that is born from the Virgin “(DS 700). This underlines the role of the Mother who is the source of the true humanity of the Son. Mary reminds us that the Word made flesh in her womb is the same bread of life offered as food to the faithful. She performs the valuable function of linking the Eucharist with the mystery of the Incarnation.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux gave voice to the gratitude toward the Mother of Jesus of the faithful receiving the Eucharist saying “Here I ask you to consider how much we owe to the Blessed Mother of God and how we have to give thanks to her after we give thanks to God. That body of Christ that the most blessed Virgin generated, held in her lap with love, wrapped in swaddling clothes and fed with maternal care, that same and certainly not another, now we receive on the holy altar, and his blood we draw in the Sacrament of our redemption “(Sermo 2 de Natali Domini). Following the example of Mary, the consecrated Virgins in the world are also Eucharistic women who cultivate in themselves in a special way the two attitudes essential to live the Eucharist: that of love and that of the offering. These women teach us to identify ourselves with the feelings of Mary when she participated in the Mass and took communion. These feelings have been well expressed by St. John Paul II “The body given up for us and made present under sacramental signs was the same body which she had conceived in her womb! For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving what she had experienced at the foot of the Cross. “(Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 56).
Like Mary the consecrated virgins participate in the celebration of the Eucharist with the joy that comes from faith (Acts 8,8.39; 13,48.52; 16,34) and that she had experienced and expressed in the Magnificat (Luke 1,46- 47), and the simplicity of heart which is characteristic of the poor of Yahweh and of the people who live the Gospel. These consecrated women show us to have understood how it is unavoidable to give oneself to Christ that in the Eucharist gives himself and his love. This love aims to eternity and the life that Jesus communicates, making himself as bread, is eternal life. This real life is not just for the afterlife but already now restores dignity to man’s earthly days and to his work in search of reconciliation with the times of celebration and of family and commitment to overcome the uncertainty of the temporariness. –
– Patristic Reading – John Chrysostome. Homily XLVII.Jn 6,53-54
“Jesus therefore said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have not eternal life in yourselves. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath life in himself.” 4701 [1.] When we converse of spiritual things, let there be nothing secular in our souls, nothing earthy, let all such thoughts retire, and be banished, and let us3 be entirely given up to the hearing the divine oracles only. For if at the arrival of a king4 all confusion is driven away, much more when the Spirit speaketh with us do we need5 great stillness, great awe. And worthy of awe is that which is said to-day. How it is so, hear. “Verily I say unto you, Except a man eat My flesh, and drink My blood, he hath not eternal life in him.” Since the Jews had before asserted that this was impossible, He showeth not only that it is not impossible, but that it is absolutely necessary. Wherefore He addeth, “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life.” “And I will raise him up at the last day.” For since He had said, “He that eateth of this bread shall not die for ever” (Jn 6,50, not verbally quoted), and it was likely that this would stand in their way, (just as they before said, “Abraham , and the prophets are dead; and how sayest Thou, that he shall not taste of death?”—c. 8,52, not verbally quoted). He bringeth forward the Resurrection to solve the question, and to show that (the man who eateth) shall not die at the last.6 He continually handleth the subject of the Mysteries, showing the necessity of the action, and that it must by all means be done. Jn 6,55. “For My flesh is true7 meat, and My blood is true drink.” What is that He saith?8 He either desireth to declare that this is the true meat which saveth the soul, or to assure them concerning what had been said, that they might not suppose the words to be a mere enigma or parable, but might know that it is by all means needful to eat the Body. Then He saith, Jn 6,56. “He that eateth My flesh, dwelleth in Me.” This He said, showing that such an one is blended with9 Him. Now what follows seems unconnected, unless we enquire into the sense; for, saith some one, after saying, “He that eateth My flesh, dwelleth in Me,” what kind of a consequence is it to add, Jn 6,57. “As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father”? Yet the words harmonize perfectly. For since He continually spake of “eternal life,” to prove this point He introduceth the expression, “dwelleth in Me”; for “if he dwelleth in Me, and I live, it is plain that he will live also.” Then He saith, “As the living Father hath sent Me.” This is an expression of comparison and resemblance, and its meaning is of this kind, “I live in like manner as the Father liveth.” And that thou mayest not deem Him unbegotten, He immediately subjoineth, “by the Father,” not by this to show that He needeth, in order to live, any power working in Him, 10 for He said before, to remove such a suspicion, “As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son also to have life in Himself”; now if He needeth the working of another, it will be found that either the Father hath not given Him so to have it, and so the assertion is false, or if He hath so given it, then He will need no other one to support Him. What then means the, “By the Father”? He here merely hinteth at the cause, and what He saith is of this kind: “As the Father liveth, so I live, and he that eateth Me shall live by Me.” And the “life” of which He speaketh is not life merely, but the excellent 11 life; for that He spake not simply of life, but of that glorious and ineffable life, is clear from this. For all men “live,” even unbelievers, and uninitiated, who eat not of that flesh. Seest thou that the words relate not to this life, but to that other? And what He saith is of this kind: “He that eateth My flesh, when he dieth shall not perish nor suffer punishment”; He spake not of the general resurrection, (for all alike rise again,) but concerning the special, the glorious Resurrection, that which hath a reward. Jn 6,58. “This is that bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead; he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” Continually doth He handle the same point, so as to imprint it on the understanding of the hearers, (for the teaching on these points was a kind of final teaching,) and to confirm the doctrine of the Resurrection and of eternal life. Wherefore He mentioneth the Resurrection since He promiseth eternal life, showing that that life is not now, but after the Resurrection. 12 “And whence,” saith some one, “are these things clear?” From the Scriptures; to them He everywhere referreth the Jews, bidding them learn these things from them. And by saying, “Which giveth life to the world,” He inciteth them to jealousy, that from very vexation that others should enjoy the gift, they may not stay without. And continually He remindeth them of the manna, showing the difference, (between it and His bread,) and guiding them to the faith; for if He was able 13 to support their life for forty years without harvest, or corn, or other things in course; 14 much more now will He be able to do so, as having come for greater ends. Moreover, if those things were but types, and yet men collected what came down without sweat or labor; much more shall this be the case, where the difference is great both in the never dying, and in the enjoying the true life. And rightly hath He spoken often of “life,” since this is desired by men, and nothing is so pleasing to them as not to die. Since even under the old Covenant, this was the promise, length of life and many days, but now it is not length merely, but life having no end. He desireth at the same time to show, that He now revoketh the punishment caused by sin, annulling that sentence which condemneth to death, and bringing in not life merely, but life eternal, contrariwise to the former things. 15