Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect for the Feast of the Visitation, BCP)
When we come to the month of August we prepare for one of the great Holy Days of the Church Year—the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin on the fifteenth.
This day commemorates St. Mary’s passing from this life to the next and is called various things by various parts of the Church. Roman Catholic Church call it the Feast of the Assumption, as they teach that on this day the Blessed Virgin was carried up—assumed—into heaven body and soul. The Eastern Orthodox Communion call this day the Dormition of the Theotokos, commemorating when the God-bearer (Theotokos in Greek) “fell asleep” in the Lord. The holy icons for this feast show Christ holding the Blessed Virgin’s swaddled soul new-born into heaven, recalling her holding his tiny swaddled body new-born on earth at the Nativity.
Anglicans put a somewhat different focus on this day. We call it the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord because for us St. Mary's primary identity is found in her unique relationship with her son. At every turn in her witness, she points to Christ; in this, she teaches us how we ourselves are to be living "God-bearers" in the world through our witness.
The Collect for this feast recalls that God took St. Mary “unto himself.” This points both to her calling to be the Mother of the Incarnate One at the Annunciation and in her joining the company of heaven at her passing—emphasizing the special character of Mary as the highest of all the saints with a unique relationship to Christ. Indeed, she receives the highest form of praise for a mortal in our liturgies, always being named first among the saints and having a number of Holy Days throughout the year (Annunciation, Visitation, Purification, &c.).
Yet Anglicanism is also very concerned to show that Our Lady is the model for the life of the Church and a pattern for our own discipleship. The Collect of the Feast of the Visitation (reprinted above) well expresses our approach to The Blessed Virgin: she is praised as the one who bore the Word Incarnate into the world (providing him his human nature), yet she is exalted even more because she kept God’s Word all her life.
When we gather on the Feast of St. Mary, we are praising God for her witness and recounting the wonder of her ministry—the longest and most intimate of all those near Jesus—recorded in Scripture to have stretched from the Annunciation all the way through Pentecost.
We are also gazing upon her as a model, a pattern, a guide for what it means to follow Christ through thick and thin, through joy and sorrow, when we understand and when we do not. After Our Lord, she is the person who most powerfully embodies faithfulness in the New Testament, and we know that we may derive great benefit from joining her in always pointing to Christ by our actions and prayers, thereby “keeping God’s word” along with her. May we be found so at the end of the ages!