Solemnity of the
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 15, 2002
A Homily - Cycle A - 2001-2002
First Reading - Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab
Responsorial Psalm - 45:10-12, 16
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Gospel - Luke 1:39-56
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the might from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.” Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Just about two years ago, I had the distinct privilege of being in Rome for the beginning of the Great Jubilee Year of 2000. I must admit that of any pilgrimage I have taken, it was among the most special - it included witnessing the pope open the Great Jubilee Doors at Midnight Mass, praying with the Holy Father in the first moments of the year 2000 in St. Peter's Square and having a personal audience with His Holiness the day before I returned home.
And as much as I will always remember being in Rome during that historic week, a more obscure opportunity I had will also stand out. A Jesuit friend of mine, Fr. Dan Sweeney, who teaches at Georgetown, and who also was in Rome at the time, took myself and another seminarian to go and see the Ignatian Apartments. These were the private quarters of St. Ignatius of Loyola when he founded the Jesuits in the 1500s, just a mile from the Vatican. After we had Mass over the saint's deathbed, I also got to see the original Papal Bull, written by four Jesuits, Munificentissimus Deus, signed by Pope Pius XII in 1950, declaring the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, today's solemnity.
The Dogma of the Assumption is the most ancient feast day of Our Lady - it has been celebrated by the East since the earliest days of Christendom. It is one of the most unique dogmas defined by the Church because practically every other dogma of the Church has been defined in response to a doubt or an attack on an element of the Faith. For example, the Apostles Creed, formulated at the Council of Jerusalem in 53 AD was written in response to doubts about the person of Christ. In the 300s, the Nicene-Constantinople Creed which we recite each Sunday and Solemnity, further defended both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus.
When Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption, it was not because the belief was in question. However, Pius XII, writing in the aftermath of the atrocities of two world wars wanted to re-assert the ancient Catholic belief in the dignity of the human body. By this dogma, Pius XII wanted Catholics and Christians everywhere to be reminded that already, Mary was enjoying the beatific vision of God in body and soul. She enjoys now what we all hope to enjoy at the Final Judgment. The body will very much be a part of the life of the world to come. Mary's Assumption is a reminder of this. This is also a pro-feminist solemnity. As Catholics, we believe that it is not only the God-man, Jesus Christ, who is in heaven, body and soul but that a woman is as well - Mary. We are the only Christians who believe that both a man and a woman already enjoy the glorified state. Protestants hold that only Christ is in His glorified state, not Mary, Isn't it striking that for as much as the Church is called anti-woman, we are the only Christians who believe a woman is already in her glorified state.
As I mentioned earlier, today we celebrate the fact that Mary enjoys now in her body and soul what we anticipate at the end of time. When the rest of us die, our bodies remain here on the earth (usually buried somewhere) and our souls face particular judgment. It will only be at the resurrection of the dead that our souls and bodies will be reunited in their glorified state. Purgatory will cease to exist at the final judgment and only heaven and hell will remain.
I find it fascinating that in a Church like ours that has a deep a tradition of venerating relics as we do, there has never, ever been a tradition or claim on possession of the relics of Mary. That's because there aren't any. Her tomb is Ephesus, which is in modern-day Turkey, is empty.
So, what happened to Mary? Did she die? Or, as the East holds, did she merely fall asleep? The East celebrates this solemnity as the Dormation (or the falling asleep) of Mary, not the Assumption.
Pius XII cleverly avoided making this distinction between dying and falling asleep because both positions are tenable. If she fell asleep, then she was assumed body and soul into heaven after that. If she "died", she would not have felt any pain or suffered corruption because she was without sin. Her dying, then, would have resembled falling into a deep sleep.
This solemnity really only makes sense in light of the Immaculate Conception. That was defined in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. If Mary was conceived without sin, she could not have died in the same way that we do. She had no need to be buried because her body was free of corruption. So, it only stands to reason that her body and soul were immediately assumed into heaven where she was made Queen of Heaven and Earth.
Is any of this in Scripture? Not really - - the closest reference we have to it is found in St. John's Book of Revelation when he describes a woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet and wearing a crown of stars. Then again, keep in mind that the Gospels aren't about Mary - - they're about Jesus and that St. John was the only evangelist alive when Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. This is a perfect example of how we Catholics see the Scriptures as emanating form our Tradition, not vice-versa.
So, on this solemnity, we venerate our Lady. When Jesus says in today's Gospel that it is more blessed to have done God's will than to have given birth or nursed him, He actually pays a veiled compliment to Mary. After all, who better did God's will in their life than Mary? Who is the finest exampled outside of Jesus that we have as mold of holiness, recollectedness, and submissiveness to God's will?
Let us take time today to rededicate ourselves to our Mother. May we live in a way that benefits us to be called her children. She is our life, our sweetness and our hope.
I would like to close with a prayer to Our Lady Assumed into Heaven: Father, you prepared the Virgin Mary to be the worthy mother of your Son. You let her share beforehand in the salvation Christ would bring by His Death, and keep her sinless from the first moment of her conception. Help us by her prayers to live in Your presence without sin.
Oh, Mary, conceived without sin - - pray for us who have recourse to thee.