The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Homily: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Readings:  Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab; Psalm 45; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1:39-56

Titian's Assumption (Frari-Venice)
Today we celebrate one of the great solemnities of the liturgical year, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although the Assumption wasn’t officially declared a dogma of faith until 1950 by Pope Pius XII, it had been a common and accepted belief within the Catholic Church for centuries. This is especially true in the Eastern Church where we find homilies on the Assumption, or the “Dormition” as it is often called in the East, dating to the fifth century. And so the defined dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven isn’t something new; rather, it simply confirmed the long-held beliefs regarding the uniqueness of Mary.

The Assumption celebrates the Blessed Virgin’s singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection by which she was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory when the course of her life was finished. Of course, the message for us is that Mary’s Assumption gives us a glimpse into what we too can expect when our own resurrection occurs on the last day.

Mary’s assumption is really the destiny of all those in Christ.  As St. Paul tells us in our 2nd reading, we shall be raised up from the dead with a glorified body like that of Christ Himself. Through the power of Christ’s resurrected glory, we’ll experience complete and perfect union with God in Christ in a glorified state, just as Mary experiences it now as a result of her Assumption.

In the Byzantine Catholic rite there’s a beautiful prayer that echoes this anticipation of resurrection: “In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.”

Why did God do this for Mary? Why did He assume her, body and soul, into His heavenly presence? We can’t say for sure, because the Assumption is a mystery, and as a mystery of faith we can never fully understand it. But we must believe it, and so our understanding will not be based on reason, but rather on a supernatural belief.

We can, however, understand the mystery partially, and can say with some assurance that Mary’s Assumption occurred because she, as the Mother of Jesus Christ, is also the Mother of God, that her body, her immaculate body, a body conceived without sin, held the Incarnate Body of God Himself. And so Christ has an absolutely unique relationship with the body of Mary, to the extent that, in a mystical, mysterious way, the Body of Christ is also, to some extent, the body of Mary.

We can understand, too, that on the day of his Ascension into Heaven, Christ had already glorified, in a certain way, the body of Mary; and that, therefore, when her life on earth was ended, Mary necessarily had to be glorified, both body and soul.

We see implications of this in our first reading, from the Book of Revelation. The passage was chosen not because of its literal meaning, but because of a convenience of words. Mary is seen as the woman clothed with the sun, with a crown of twelve stars, and with the moon under her feet – as one who is above all of creation. Although this passage applies to the Church, Mary is Mother many times over, Mother of God, Mother of us all, and Mother of the Church, the symbol of what we all should be.

And so today we celebrate Mary, Theotokos, Mother of God, and Our heavenly Mother. But she is more than that, more than our Mother, for as a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ, she’s also our Sister. And as the perfect disciple, she’s our model, our model on how to live the Christian life, our model of faith and hope. She is among "the first-fruits" that Paul refers to, the first-fruits of "all those who belong to Jesus" and who share in his triumph. And we see her in this role most clearly in today’s Gospel passage from Luke.

What a remarkable scene! The young Mary, now Mother of the Incarnate God, is told by Gabriel of her aged cousin’s pregnancy; and in a humble act of love, makes the difficult journey from Galilee to Judea to visit Elizabeth.

Yes, Mary is the first and the best disciple of Jesus, something that Elizabeth points out by greeting her with, “Blessed are you among women...” Not to be outdone, Elizabeth’s son, John, “leaped in her womb” at Mary’s greeting. What an extraordinary response to what seems such a simple act on Mary’s part. But Mary continues and quietly yet strongly acknowledges the incredible grace that encompasses the whole scene: her son-to-be is the reason for the leaping with joy. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

All three, Mary, Elizabeth and John, greet one another filled with the Holy Spirit, and filled too with a joyful anticipation of the fulfillment of God's promise to give a Savior. How fitting a reminder to us today that Jesus Christ was greeted first by a baby in the womb, an unborn infant who pointed to His coming as the Holy Spirit revealed the presence of the King to be born. This is the power of the Holy Spirit; for He is God's gift to us. He enables us to know and experience the indwelling presence of God and the power of his kingdom. The Holy Spirit is God reigning within each of us.

And so Mary, filled with the Spirit and full of grace, the first and best of Jesus’ disciples, receives wholeheartedly the beauty and bounty of God. And from all this we learn that God visits us in the ordinariness of our lives. Here we see what would seem to be a not unusual family meeting of two gifted women and the encounter is suffused with the love of God.

We also come to realize that God remains with us in all our human activities, for He is the presence that holds us up; in Him we live and move and have our being. And it is through these encounters with God, these encounters that occur in the midst of our daily lives, that we are saved by God’s tender mercies.

As our model of faith and hope, Mary shows us all this and more. She accepted her mission with uncompromising faith and obedience. She acted with unwavering trust and faith because she believed that God would fulfill the word he had spoken. Her great hymn of praise echoes the song of Hannah and proclaims the favor of the Lord: God exalts the lowly and he fills the hungry.

The Holy Spirit is ever ready to renew faith and hope in God's promises and to make us strong in love for God and our neighbor. And so, today, as we experience God’s indwelling presence in the Eucharist, let’s turn our eyes towards Heaven, where Jesus and Mary await us, in the company of all the saints who make up, for all eternity, the Mystical Body of Christ!

Let’s pray to Mary, our Mother, asking her to intercede for us so that, through the Holy Spirit, we might worthily receive the Body and Blood of her Son, and like her become God-bearers for the Glory of the Father.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this entry.
    I also found an interesting article about the Dormition/Assumption providing a broad perspective on the feast’s history and the various ways it is observed. Worth checking out: