Revelation 11:19a;12:1-6a;10ab; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56
The Assumption is the oldest feast day of Our Lady, but we don’t know how it first came to be celebrated. Its origin is lost in those days when Jerusalem was restored as a sacred city, at the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. For hundreds of years, Catholics observed the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15 — celebrating Mary’s being taken bodily to Heaven after her death — but it was not until 1950 that the Church proclaimed this teaching a dogma of the Church — one of the essential beliefs of the Catholic faith. The idea of the assumption of Mary into heaven after her death is first expressed in narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these were never official, they bear witness to the very early belief in a teaching of the Catholic Church which was not formally defined as a dogma. Though it was almost universally believed for more than a thousand years, the Bible contains no mention of the assumption of Mary into heaven. The first Church writer to speak of Mary’s being taken up into heaven by God is Saint Gregory of Tours, towards the end of 6th century, in 596.
Today’s feast celebrates the special place that Mary has in the life of the Church. This place is first of all defined by her being chosen to be the mother of Jesus, his only human parent. This alone gives her a uniqueness which is shared by no other person who has ever lived. On November 1, 1950, the Feast of All Saints, Pope Pius XII declared as a dogma revealed by God that “Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven”. By using the image “assumed body and soul into heaven” what is really being said is that Mary, because of the dignity of her motherhood and her own personal submission to God’s will at every stage of her life, takes precedence over everyone in the sharing of God’s glory which is the destiny of all of us who die united with Christ her Son. She remains, of course, fully a human being and infinitely lower in dignity than her Son and much closer to us. With us but leading us, she stands in adoration of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She cannot even in glory be given in any way the worship that is proper to the Persons of the Trinity. What she can do is to intercede for us in our needs, offering her human prayers on our behalf.
The Gospel of today gives us the story of Mary’s visitation to her cousin, Elizabeth, when both were expecting their first child. The story contains most of the elements which contribute to the status we give to Mary in our Church. We have Mary who soon after the Annunciation goes to see Elizabeth who is in need for support. It is highly significant that it is Mary and Jesus who go to visit Elizabeth and John. Already in the womb, Jesus is showing that urge to serve rather than be served. In Mary we see her true nature to serve and show her concern. The scriptures tell us that at the presence of Jesus and his mother, the child in Elizabeth’s womb jumps for joy. Elizabeth, in turn, recognises the special position of Mary and her Son: filled with the Holy Spirit, she called Mary the “Mother of my Lord.” She also says, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth is deeply moved that it is Jesus and his Mother have come to her and says “how is it that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Further she praises Mary for she had unconditionally accepted to submit to God’s plan. Mary’s response is the Magnificat, the song of thanksgiving.
The hymn Magnificat is the song of thanksgiving and thanks living. She speaks about the choice of God in her life. “He has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant,” she says. “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” This is not a statement made in arrogance but in humble thanksgiving. Mary speaks of the three revolutions, political as the Almighty has shown strength with his arm meaning He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. It is a social revolution as He has brought do he has filled the hungry with good things, Finally there is an economic revolution, He sent the rich away empty and the poor are filled with good things.” He won the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. Hence the religion of Mary is full of adventure and one has to be respectful and hopeful to receive it fully. Above all her being chosen is simply another sign of God’s desire that the poor, the weak, the marginalised, and the ordinary people.
But Mary’s greatness does not stop at the graces and privileges which were showered on her. These, after all, were purely passive in the sense they were gifts given to her. In a telling scene in the Gospel, a woman who had been listening to Jesus suddenly cried out in a loud voice: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that you sucked!” In our own language today we might say: “May God bless the mother who produced such a wonderful son as you!” And there is a deep truth here, namely, the influence that Mary actually had in the formation of her Son. But Jesus immediately picked up the woman’s words and said: “No, blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” In other words, it is not the graces that God gives us which make us great but the manner in which we receive and respond to them. Mary is the one who listened to the word of God and lived it to the full. Today we join Mary in her happiness. We look forward to the day when we too can share it with her. In the meantime, we ask her to remember us as we continue our journey on earth and to intercede for us with her Son that, like her, we may remain faithful to our call as faithful disciples. May we know God’s will for us at all times and, like Mary, say our unconditional Yes to what he wants for us.
In today’s reading from the Book of Revelation, we heard of a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. These words are symbolic, meaning that Jesus gloriously resurrected and He now rules at the right hand of the Heavenly Father. Then again there is the symbol of the great dragon with seven heads and ten horns, signifying the evil and is always eager to destroy the good and perpetuate the evil. The woman is symbolized in Mary and there is the promise of salvation in the world and the full authority of Christ. The Blessed Virgin Mary was taken up to Heaven by angels of the Lord God to a place of sure refuge.
The second reading taken from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where the author tells us that all the enemies have been destroyed and God has put them under his feet. The last of the enemy to be destroyed is death and hence it is the victory for the pure and innocent life lived and this is justified in Mary the Immaculate one. Paul explains how Christ has been raised from the dead the first fruit of all those fallen asleep. When Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, he lost his inheritance to eternal life. His soul, spirit and body, and those of his descendants, were called to experience physical and spiritual death. It is only through the Church Sacrament of Baptism that we receive our new creation, our new heart and spirit of the godly seed, as our assurance of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Adam brought death into the world through his sin and Jesus brought life through his sinless life and Mary is the first person to reap this reward by overcoming death.
The doctrine of the Assumption is also based largely on the “fittingness” of the privilege given to her by God. This is because of the fact that she was chosen to be the Mother of God and her perfect acceptance and submission to God’s will. Since Jesus, who fulfilled the commandments perfectly, would have honoured his mother perfectly, it is not unreasonable to understand that the Assumption as one of the ways in which she was rewarded by her son. It is “fitting” then that she should be given the full effects of the Redemption, which is the glorification of the soul and body. The doctrine of the Assumption points us toward the glorious promise that awaits us co-heirs of God’s kingdom, and it illustrates and reinforces the dignity we have as sons and daughters of God.
The Feast of the Assumption has always been loved dearly by the faithful who are children of Mary. It is a sign to us that someday, through God’s grace and our good life we too will join the Blessed Mother in giving glory to God. The Assumption is a source of great hope for us, too, for it points the way for all followers of Christ who imitate her fidelity and obedience to God’s will. Where she now is, we are meant eventually to be, and may hope to be through Divine grace. Mary the sinless person, was taken up to heaven after her earthly life is the logical outcome of her immaculate nature, uniquely protected by God’s grace. We seek to imitate her self-sacrificing love, her indestructible faith and her perfect obedience.
The Assumption of Mary: August 15, 2009.
Revelation 11:19a;12:1-6a;10ab; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56