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Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

August 15, 2023
Represión: Las madres y la montada. Eduardo Longoni, 1982.

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore Mary, the Magnificat, and the Church’s use of Mary to oppress women; engage Catholic Social Teaching’s helpful and unhelpful views on women’s roles; and embody mothers’ and women’s actions given their situations with the help of  Los madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) and Cindy Wang Brandt.

Commentary by Monica Lundberg

Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

Reading 1

Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10

I, John, had this vision:
God’s Temple in heaven opened
and in the Temple could be seen the Ark of the Covenant.
There were flashes of lightning and peals of thunder,
an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm.
A great sign appeared in the sky:
a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was pregnant, and she cried out in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky:
a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns;
on its heads were seven crowns.
Its tail swept a third of the stars from the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
ready to devour her child when it should be born.
She gave birth to a child — destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and to God’s throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert,
where a special place had been prepared for her by God;
there she was taken care of for twelve hundred and sixty days.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say,
“Now have salvation and power come,
the reign of Our God and the authority of God’s Messiah.
For the accuser of our sisters and brothers is cast out,
who night and day accused them before our God.”

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 45

Response: At your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

At your right hand stands the queen / in gold of Ophir.
R: At your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear
Forget your people and your ancestor’s home.
R: At your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

And the sovereign will desire your beauty.
R: At your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

With joy and gladness they are led along / as they enter the palace of the sovereign.
R: At your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

Reading 2

1 Corinthians 15:20-26

But as it is, Christ has in fact been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through one human being,
in the same way the resurrection of the dead
has come through one human being.
Just as in the first humans all die, so in Christ all will come to life again,
but all of them in their proper order:
Christ as the first fruits,
and then the faithful when Christ comes again.
After that will come the end,
when Christ hands over the kindom to God the Creator,
having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power.
Christ must reign until God has put all enemies under Christ’s foot,
and the last enemy to be destroyed is death.


Luke 1:39-56

Within a few days, Mary set out
and hurried into the hill country to a town of Judah,
where she entered Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s house.
Mary greeted Elizabeth.
As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the child leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
In a loud voice she exclaimed,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
But why am I so favored,
that the mother of the Messiah should come to me?
The moment your greeting reached my ears,
the child in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed is she who believed
that what our God said to her would be accomplished.”

Mary said,

“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
For you have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age
for those who fear you.
You have shown strength with Your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit.
You have deposed the mighty from their thrones,
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich empty away.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
mindful of your mercy—
the promise you made to our ancestors—
to Sarah and Abraham
and to their descendants forever.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned home.

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



Mary’s Agency

The Gospel passage read for the Assumption joins Luke’s infancy narrative in the middle of the story – a story most of us learn as children as a tidy Christmas pageant, amalgamated and simplified. Mary, the lead character in this pageant, is idealized, whether as a serene and silent vessel or a pious and willing disciple. In her book, Mary Mother of Martyrs: How Motherhood Became Self-Sacrifice in Early Christianity, Kathleen Gallagher Elkins discusses how theologians have sought to combine the Gospel stories about Mary into a unified narrative, an exercise that has led to the promulgation of “Mary – both mother and virgin – as the paradigmatic impossible ideal” (5). Citing the work of dozens of scholars, she describes traditional Mariology, which emphasizes Mary’s obedience, humility, passivity, and self-sacrifice as the essential qualities of good Christian women and mothers – qualities that have been, and continue to be, used explicitly and implicitly to oppress women. She contrasts this with a description of how feminist theologians have focused on questions of Mary’s agency, reframing Mary as the ideal disciple. In practice, however, this view of Mary can easily become simply another impossible standard by which to measure women. Gallagher Elkins then proposes a more expansive reading of the Gospels via a lens of community, examining Mary’s response to specific contexts and the connections between Mariology and maternal activism.

In Luke 1:39-56, we read Mary’s Magnificat: a prayer and a greeting between Mary and her elder cousin, Elizabeth. By expanding our reading to the whole of Luke Chapter 1, we see that Mary and Elizabeth are both pregnant in specific, shared context: they are women in a highly patriarchal society; they are Jews living under the oppression of violent colonizing forces; they are mothers in a time of rampant state violence against children; they have become pregnant under unusual circumstances that draw attention and rumor from their neighbors. They are both marginalized people embarking upon a perilous journey – motherhood – that they know may lead to further marginalization. The Gospel writers also assumed that their audience had a certain degree of background knowledge: that Mary would become the mother of a martyr and would witness the terrorizing of both her child and her community (Gallagher Elkins, 25). 

Luke writes that Mary learns of Elizabeth’s pregnancy from the angel Gabriel, and went “with haste” to go to her (Luke 1:38-39). Gallagher Elkins proposes focusing on this action as the nexus of Mary’s agency: that in a difficult situation, she reaches out to her community in solidarity (31). Mary and Elizabeth greet each other with praise for God and encouragement for each other, but also with calls of hope for revolution and an end to oppression. 

Mary’s Magnificat is bookended by the story of Zechariah. Gallagher Elkins notes that this is commonly interpreted as a literary device used to highlight the exceptionality of Jesus’s birth: that “whatever happens to Elizabeth is replicated and surpassed by what happens to Mary” (31). She asserts that setting Mary and Elizabeth as foils risks obscuring the communal context of their stories. Zechariah is an important connection to that communal context, and one which subverts the patriarchal norms that might be assumed in that particular context. At the beginning of Luke 1, Zechariah loses the ability to speak as a result of his disbelief of the angel Gabriel. Since he was serving in the temple, his muteness was immediately known to the entire community. He is unable to speak again until Elizabeth gives birth and wants to name her child John, and is met with resistance by the community. When Zechariah is given a tablet to write and uses it to tell the community that Elizabeth is right, he regains the power of speech – and his first words are a canticle that echoes Mary’s Magnificat. Zechariah’s role in the story is to be an ally: to listen to and uplift the words of mothers. Zechariah does not – and by divine intervention cannot – speak over Mary and Elizabeth. 

Gallagher Elkins states (while quoting gender theorist Judith Butler): “Interpretations of Mary as a self-sacrificing mother are…imbued with paralyzing judgements…[that promote] a monolithic understanding of motherhood as submissive” (31). She also describes the ways that Mary’s responses to suffering varied throughout the Gospels, and that the common thread among all of them was connection to community. By grounding Mary’s agency, not in an acceptance of suffering, but in her responses to situations of suffering, and by emphasizing her connections to her community, we restore flexibility to our image of Mary. This flexibility functions as an antidote to the harmful idealization of women’s suffering by framing self-sacrifice as one of many strategic means of resisting injustice rather than a natural quality of good motherhood (33). 

Commentary by Monica Lundberg

Monica Lundberg is an artist, activist, writer, educator, and mother. She has a degree in Elementary Education from Emmanuel College and has continued her education through a wide array of opportunities, with a focus on the intersections of theology, justice, and education. She has served in several leadership roles with Call To Action, an organization that seeks to inspire and support Catholics working for justice.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Gender Justice

The bedrock of Catholic Social Teaching is the dignity of the human person. Dignity, however, is often neglected in practice, as Pope Francis notes in Fratelli tutti: “The organization of societies worldwide is still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men. We say one thing with words, but our decisions and reality tell another story” (23). 

The Church calls us to consider the signs of the times. The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated some of the ways mothers in particular are suffering, and in disproportionate ways. The United Nations Population Fund has written about mothers asked to do “the impossible”, garnering national attention; women’s participation in the workforce was disproportionately impacted; and rates of postpartum depression increased. Every time a woman is forced, by lack of societal support, to choose between her vocation as a mother and her vocation as a professional, her dignity has been violated. Every time a new mother suffers from depression fueled by isolation or feelings of guilt over her own physical or emotional limitations, her dignity is violated. Every time a mother sacrifices for her child not out of her own free will but because she has no other choice, her dignity is violated. Every time a mother watches her child suffer and is powerless to prevent it, her dignity is violated. 

Mary’s dignity was violated in many of these ways. When the Church generalizes Mary’s responses to those violations as the foundational qualities of a good woman, it implies that violations of dignity are a prerequisite for faithful womanhood. Such a message is in itself a threat to mothers’ dignity, particularly when coming from the Church’s position of power. There is ample evidence of the widespread damage that being held to impossible standards does to mothers’ well-being – one need look no further than any public discourse on breastfeeding pressure, emotional labor, parental leave, pay gaps, unpaid caregiving work, or motherhood in general. 

Within the Church, too, there are complex (and controversial) questions to consider: Do conversations around pregnancy and conception reduce mothers to mere incubators? Do parishes use the example of Mary as an excuse to rely on the uncompensated labor of mothers? Are mothers who speak out against injustice and violence dismissively told to pray to the Virgin Mary, as the Catholic priests and bishops told the Madres de la Plaza del Maya in Argentina in the mid-20th century (Gallagher-Elkins 19-20)? Are mothers who express a call to vocations in addition to their vocation as mothers encouraged in their discernment, or told to emulate Karl Rahner’s description of a Mary who “had no other purpose” besides motherhood (13)? 

The Church is not immune to the risk Pope Francis describes in Fratelli tutti: “Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion” (15). The Catholic social teaching on human dignity calls the Church to do the difficult work of examining the ways in which Mariology has contributed to, and continues to contribute to, misogyny, and this work must begin with the example of Zechariah: listening to women’s own voices. 


A Contemplative Exercise

God, Creator, who makes each human being in Your image, imbued with dignity, be with me.
God, Healer, who knows, mourns, and transforms human suffering, be with me.
God, Wisdom, who calls us to solidarity, justice, and community with each other, be with me.

Listen to the song “Magnificat” by Three At Home. Notice what feelings come up for you as you listen. Then, spend some time reflecting on your own understanding of Mary. Meditate, write, and/or draw about your responses to these questions.

What parts of Mary’s story resonate with you? What parts of her story do you struggle with? What images of Mary have evoked strong emotions in you, and what were those emotions? Have the portrayals of Mary you have encountered influenced your understanding of your own gender? Did the song “Magnificat” prompt any new imaginings or questions about Mary for you? If you were to engage in a dialogue with someone in your community about the themes in the song, who would you desire to hear from, and why?

A Witness

Cindy Wang Brandt

When Cindy Wang Brandt describes her experiences as a young wife, mother, and missionary trying to fit the mold of the submissive Christian woman, she writes, “I found that my ambitions and desires felt shackled…People expected my husband to do the leading and the teaching and the speaking, practically throwing opportunities at him while I hustled to be seen and heard, all the while keeping the household and making sure I stayed appropriately small. The dissonance became harder and harder to sustain.” 

Now, Wang Brandt is an internationally-published writer, community leader, podcast host, and founder of the Parenting Forward conference. She has published two books: Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness; and You Are Revolutionary (a picture book for children). In her work, she acknowledges the pain that fundamentalist religion causes to so many people, and offers resources for those seeking to parent in new ways. She has also written: “If recovery from fundamentalist religion wasn’t painful, I wouldn’t name it as trauma.” Both her personal story and the response to her work (her audience numbers in the thousands) demonstrate the need for new visions of Christian womanhood, motherhood, and parenthood. 

Like Mary, Cindy Wang Brandt has sought and nurtured community. Like los madres, her concern for her own children has grown into concern for others’ children and for justice. Her work and her example teach how to recognize and heal from the harm that is caused when Christian narratives, particularly Marian ones, are used in service of misogyny, patriarchy, and other oppressions. 

A Community

Los madres de Plaza de Mayo

Between 1977 and 1983 in Argentina, after a coup installed a military dictatorship, thousands of youths were kidnapped and subjected to torture and execution. They were called desaparecidos, which means “disappeared ones.” A group of mothers whose children were among the desaparecidos began organizing, holding demonstrations in the Plaza de Mayo, a public square in front of Argentina’s presidential palace (Gallagher-Elkins, 18). 

Los madres de Plaza de Mayo, as they came to be called, became activists for justice in response to the violence perpetrated against their children. In protesting publicly, los madres risked their own safety, and some eventually sacrificed their lives. As Gallagher Elkins writes: “To speak of “agency” or “choice” in their situation resists certain commonplace assumptions about individual autonomy and freedom…it is not the unfettered, free choice of an individual with every option available…Their self-giving is connected to and a direct consequence of their passion for justice” (21). 

Los madres explicitly drew upon Marian imagery, at times wearing a carpenter’s nail, and verbally comparing their suffering with Mary’s suffering while witnessing the crucifixion (18). This comparison drew criticism from those committed to a more passive Mariology; in similar quotes attributed to an army captain and a Monsignor, the madres’ critics complained: “I can’t imagine the Virgin Mary shouting [and] protesting” (20). 

Like Mary, los madres suffered as mothers living in oppressive contexts, unable to prevent state violence against their children. Like Mary, los madres sought community, both for support and to cry out together for justice. They also begat lasting change in their communities, as two organizations descended from los madres are active in Argentinian and global efforts to seek justice for all children (Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo  and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo). Los madres still march weekly in the Plaza de Mayo, a living witness to Mary’s Magnificat prayer to the God who has “thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52).


Postpartum Depression by Monica Lundberg

Postpartum Depression, Monica Lundberg, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. 

Image description: Against a black, orange, red, and purple background of paintbrush swatches lies a person with black hair, their skin white, gray, and black. Their face is cast down, eyes closed, and they hold a baby, painted orange, in their arms.