Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Bartolome Esteban Murillo
“The Assumption of the Virgin Mary”
By the 1670s, the image of the Virgin Mary in the work of Murillo loses a certain warmth and becomes ‘theological’ in nature. In this painting, however, the artist shows the Mother of God, not as before in his work: a young woman with a certain sadness in her eyes. If the Master used to paint down-to-earth images of the Madonna, on the contrary, he now seeks to remove the Virgin Mary from earthly ‘spheres’.
He places Her on a pedestal, from a height where She appears to the viewer as somewhat distant and indifferent to earthly cares and sorrows.
In this ‘Assumption of the Virgin Mary’, Murillo returns to his former style. Mary ascends to the heavenly light, and again appears in the form of a young girl with a naive and trusting expression of an almost childlike face.
With her open hands She shows trust while the soft radiance enveloping Her gives Her image even more warmth and expressiveness.
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
46 And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise He made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.”
Luke follows the Gospel of Matthew by including the Infancy Stories in his narrative.
After the announcement of the birth of the Messiah (‘the Annunciation’), Mary travels from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea. There, Luke describes the encounter of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth.
The road from Nazareth to Judea was not an easy one, and Mary is not said to be travelling with any other company. However, we can imagine that people travelled in groups to guarantee the minimum of security.
When we read the story we see some important details about Mary’s personality:
1. Her prompt determination to announce the Good News of the message she received;
2. Her trust in the words of the Angel that speak of the miracle of Elizabeth’s conception at her old age; and
3. Her willingness to help an elderly cousin in her need.
Saint Luke fills this story with great joy to tell us of the meeting of the old woman Elisabeth with Mary a young maiden, with both of them expecting a child.
Elisabeth realizes that Mary, who was called the “Fullness of Grace”, has passed on to her a share of the blessedness that Mary possesses.
We recall here the story of Moses who was the friend of God and lived in His presence and conversed to God face to face. The Children of Israel could not look at the face of Moses for it was illuminated by the glory of God.
In the same way, in the Annunciation, the Angel of the Lord said to Mary: “the Lord is with you”. From then on, Mary carried within her the Divine presence and the very sound of Mary’s voice, results in the outpouring of the Spirit. Elisabeth then, without yet seeing her, “was filled with the [same] Holy Spirit”.
Filled with that divine presence, Elisabeth sings a prayer of blessing addressed to Mary on her divine maternity and to the Child within her womb.
The joy fills not only the two women, but also the unborn son of Elisabeth. The Church sees in this text the dignity of the human person from its very conception and supports the defense and protection of the unborn child based on Scripture.
The Canticle of the Magnificat is an ancient poem full of many allusions to the Old Testament which, placed in Mary’s lips, describes the character of the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, and the Mother of the Church.
Stanley Jones said of the Magnificat that it was “the most revolutionary document in the world”. This prayer proclaims:
1. A Moral Revolution: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts”:
When the grace of God touches the human heart and makes a person aware of
his/her own worth, notwithstanding the inconsistency of wrong choices, a change of
behaviour is likely to happen.
2. A Social Revolution: “He casts the mighty … and raises the lowly”:
The concept of privileges, superior peoples and cultures is overcome by the dignity
of every person as a child of God.
3. An Economic Revolution: “He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the
rich away empty”:
The society that sets gain and profit as the priority above all else will be
transformed by a Christian worldview that puts the person at the top of the
pyramid. A person of faith knows that his/her possessions and goods are a gift from
God, even if they are the result of his/her efforts. Sharing of one’s wealth becomes
then a moral imperative and a source of joy. The will of God is that all may have
enough to live in dignity and no one should close his/her ears to the cry of the poor.
Social justice is a moral demand based on the Word of God.
The Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 59
“Heir to the hope of the righteous in Israel and first among the disciples of Jesus Christ is Mary, his Mother. By her ‘fiat’ to the plan of God’s love (cf. Luke 1:38), in the name of all humanity, she accepts in history the One sent by the Father, the Saviour of mankind. In her Magnificat she proclaims the advent of the Mystery of Salvation, the coming of the “Messiah of the poor”…
Looking to the heart of Mary, to the depth of her faith expressed in the words of the Magnificat, Christ’s disciples are called to renew ever more fully in themselves ‘the awareness that the truth about God who saves, the truth about God who is the source of every gift, cannot be separated from the manifestation of his love of preference for the poor and humble, that love which, celebrated in the Magnifcat, is later expressed in the words and works of Jesus’. (Redemptoris Mater No. 38). Mary is totally dependent upon God and completely directed towards him by the impetus of her faith. She is ‘the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe’”.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
When Pope Pius XII in 1950 proclaimed in the Apostolic Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus” (“The Most Provident God”) the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the world had just come out of the most devastating war in human history.
European and Western societies were trying to come to terms with their recent history.
The truth of the Genocide of the Jews and the atrocities carried out in the concentration camps in Germany and Poland was being revealed. World War II was a rejoinder to the Age of Enlightenment in the XVIII Century that believed in the emancipation, independence and absolute goodness of human reason.
This dream was shattered to pieces while and a sense of deep suspicion of human reason prevailed. A feeling of vulnerability spread across society and the fear of war and international conflict permeated the daily lives of people. This fear was perpetuated in the Arms Race during the Cold War, well through to 1970’s and on until the 1990’s.
It is against this historical background that the Church was able to announce the potential final blessed destination of each and every human being.
The figure of Mary stood once again in a time of crisis as the icon of hope: the belief in the original goodness of Creation, and the possibility of redemption when humanity was at its worse.
Even though the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was as ancient as the Church itself, the final definition of the Dogma could not have come at a more convenient time for the Christian world, so submerged as it was in a sense of negativity and sadness.
In Christ there is no East or West,
I him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.
In him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord,
Close binding all mankind.
I make mine the prayer of Mary when I say:
My soul magnifies You, Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
Thank You for looking on my humble estate!
Thank You for blessing me and mine
through the submission of Mary
and the incarnation of Jesus.
You have done great things for me,
and holy is Your name.
Your mercy has been poured out on me,
and to the next generation, too.
Show Your strength in my life and in the lives of those I love;
Scatter the proud;
Bring down the mighty from their thrones
and exalt the humble;
Fill the hungry with good things,
and turn the hearts of the rich to be generous and kind.
Come to the aid of all Your servants, Lord;
remember Your great mercy,
and speak as You spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring. Amen.
The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary opens for us the contemplation of the mysteries of Redemption. God has not abandoned humankind to its own destiny or fall prey to its own ambition. There is always a chance to turn back to the Lord.
We contemplate the joy of the encounter between Mary and Elisabeth.
We contemplate the missionary impulse of the Mother of Jesus who runs to announce and share with good news of the birth of the Messiah.
We contemplate the Serving Mother who cares more about the difficulties of her elderly cousin giving birth than about her own pregnancy.
We contemplate the Heart of Mary burning in zeal for justice, and for the rights of the poor.
We contemplate the humility of the Mother of God who becomes a Disciple of her own Child. She keeps the Word, ponders it in her heart and puts it in practice.
We contemplate the trust God places in redeemed humanity.
It is not by his/her own means that people will be able to overcome evil and hatred to once again restore broken human relationships, but by the work of the Spirit through wo/men of good will.
We contemplate our final destination to share with Mary the Glory that Christ has gained for each one of us.
 “The word Magnificat derives from the Latin third person singular of magnificare, (from magnus ‘great’) + facere ‘to make, to do’ … in the Latin translation of the Bible ‘Magnificat anima mea dominum’ or “My soul doth magnify the Lord” is used as a canticle.  1 Sam. 2: 1: “Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies because I rejoice in my victory.” Isa. 61:10: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels”. Hab. 3:18: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation”. 1Tm 1: 1b: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope”. 1Sam. 1:11: “She made this vow: ‘O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a Nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head’”. Gen. 30:13: “And Leah said, ‘Happy am I! For the women will call me happy’; so she named him Asher”. Psalm 111:9: “He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name”. Psalm 103:17: “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children”. Psalm 89:10: “You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm”. 1Peter 5:5: “In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” Jb. 5:11: “He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.” Jb. 12:9: “Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” Psalm 107:9: “For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things”. Isa.41:8-9: “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”. Psalm 98:3: “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God”. Gen. 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. Gen. 13:15: “Or all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever”. Gen. 22:18: “And by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice”.