Reflection: Mary Assumed into Heaven, body and soul – principal patron of the society ( Year C )

Gospel Reading:

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him. He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

Further Readings:

In 1909 De Piro was preparing for the foundation of his Society. On 1st August of that same year he wrote a draft of the formula that was expected to be read by the future members during their religious profession. In it he referred to Our Lady. But not only; he mentioned the “Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed into Heaven.”

On 12th June 1910 Archbishop Peter Pace opened and blessed the first House of the Society, at Mdina. In the speech with which the Founder greeted His Excellency, there was again mention of the “Our Mother, Mary Assumed into Heaven.”

In the Society’s Council session of 17th April 1928, the Founder invited his assistants, Fr J. Spiteri and Fr M. Callus, to discuss the opening of a novitiate for the Brother Catechists, at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta. On 4th August 1928 the Servant of God and his General Council decided to open this novitiate on the 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, and be dedicated to the “Blessed Mary Assumed into Heaven.” In the minutes of this session, the Secretary of the Council, Fr Michael Callus, added that Mary Assumed into Heaven was the “Principal Patron of our Society.” De Piro signed and approved these minutes.

In the following Council session, 11th August 1928, the Founder asked his assistants to discuss the opening of an “aspirandate” for the aspirants of the Society at the Birkirkara Oratory. The name of this Centre was not decided in that session, but in that of 15th February 1929 there was a first clear mention of it: “The Santa Maria Aspirandate.” In Malta, Our Lady Assumed into Heaven is referred to by the name of Santa Maria.

In the “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions,” De Piro indicated that as time passed by the devotion to Our Lady Assumed into Heaven continued. In the 1922 Almanac he wrote: “In the chapel we celebrate her feast under the title of the Assumption, a title which has brought new graces on the Society.”

Ten years later he again wrote: “In our missionary society we also tried to offer flowers to Our Lady by means of a literary academy among the students who are housed at the Birkirkara Oratory. We concluded with a resolution to make heard our small voice to the Bishop, asking him to place another pearl in the crown of Mary Our Most Holy Mother through the dogmatic definition of the glorious Assumption of Mary into Heaven.”

A year later he added: “Therefore we too chose her as our most cherished patroness, we who since the beginning of the Society felt Mary’s help. Since the Society had its beginning in the island of Saint Paul, we felt that we could not do better than venerate her under a very ancient custom in Malta when, under the title “Santa Marija” her Assumption into Heaven is celebrated throughout the whole island.

And when in the course of development of the Society we came to open the aspirandate at the Birkirkara Oratory, we could not think of a better name than that of Santa Marija. We also dedicated the first academy we held at the aspirandate in honour of the Blessed Virgin, since it was also the year of the centenary of the Council of Ephesus. Before concluding that very dear meeting we adopted a resolution to ask the Bishop, in our smallness, to request the Pope to advance the dogmatic definition of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven, how and when he sees it fit.”

Why did De Piro choose title of Mary Assumed into Heaven?

In the last writing, the Servant of God said why he chose Mary’s Assumption into Heaven for the members of his Society: his Congregation was founded in Malta and the Maltese have a special veneration to Our Lady Assumed into Heaven. Yet, in Malta there is also an extended devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. For an image to be crowned it is necessary that the image itself be old. There must be a special devotion towards it and graces must be granted through its intercession. On 15 July 1881 Archbishop Carmelo Scicluna crowned the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in Valletta. This was the first image to be crowned in Malta. Wednesdays and Saturdays are observed by many as days of prayer and mortification in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Ursula, the mother of the Servant of God, was a member of the Carmelite Tertiary Order.

Our Lady of Victories, celebrated on the feast of the birthday of Our Lady, has continuously been considered among the Maltese as the one who saved our islands from their enemies, especially during the two great sieges: one by the Turks in 1565, and another by the Germans in the Second World War. As far back as 1585 a church with the title of Our Lady of Victories was dedicated to the Nativity of Mary. Along the years, numerous devotions were practiced all to thank Our Lady and her intercession in favour of the Maltese. In Malta there are 47 churches and chapels dedicated to Our Lady of Victories.

In 1570 a detailed inventory was made in the parish church of Zabbar, a Maltese parish, wherein reference was made to the high esteem with which Our Lady of Graces was held. Until recently one would probably have found an image of Our Lady of Graces in many Maltese homes.

Our Lady of Mellieha is very popular among the Maltese. De Piro himself led at least two pilgrimages to its sanctuary. On those occasions he preached a sermon. In the “Saint Paul: Almanac of the Institute of the Missions” he wrote an article about Our Lady of Mellieha. Where he said that “many people who went and are still visiting her.” De Piro also encouraged the readers of his Almanac to visit her sanctuary in Mellieha.

In Malta the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated twice a year: a week before Good Friday and on 15 September. During Lent a procession with the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is held in the vast majority of the Maltese parishes, attended by huge crowds of people. While not forgetting the various sermons De Piro preached about the sorrows of Our Lady, one must add that De Piro helped the parish priest of Hamrun to obtain the Archbishop’s permission to start celebrating the 15 September feast of Our Lady of Sorrows in his parish.

One must not forget Our Lady of Pompeii. There has always been great devotion to this Madonna all over Malta and even in our times at noon on 8 May, many Maltese recite the prayer to Our Lady of Pompeii. The De Piro family had a great devotion towards Mary under this title. The Servant of God, his mother and several witnesses linked Our Lady of Pompeii to Joseph’s vocation. The Servant of God encouraged this devotion among the faithful.

In spite the popularity among the Maltese of these Marian titles De Piro chose the mystery of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven as a patron for his Society.

Although it was only in 1950 that Pope Pius XII proclaimed that: “the ever Immaculate Virgin Mary, after her life here on earth, was assumed body and soul to the glory of heaven,” as a Church dogma, among Christians there has been a long tradition that Our Lady was assumed into heaven. This means that the Servant of God could have chosen the mystery of the Assumption of Our Lady for his Society because it embodied his belief in the glorification of the whole human person.