Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Assumption

In Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary (Yale U. Pr., 2009) Miri Rubin writes of the medieval celebration of the Assumption: "Everything about the feast was designed to remind participants that Mary was seated alongside her son in heaven.  The Assumption set Mary apart from other saints and reassured those who sought her intercession and help as she sat alongside her son there. ... All the senses were touched by the Assumption. ... European devotion had never  spoken of Mary as elaborately before. Written for an occasion when heaven and earth met, it was fitting that sermons for the Assumption used ornate language, full of pomp. ...The Assumption celebrated the enduring hope of heavenly intercession, the hope that linked heaven and earth" (pp. 139-140).

Sandwiched into the middle of the post-modern work week, filled as it already is with frenzy, fury, and folly, the Church's great annual summer "feel-good" festival of Mary's Assumption - the oldest and most important of all of her feasts - may perhaps pass almost or entirely unnoticed. While this neglect in no way diminished Mary's heavenly glory, it does diminish - and deprive us of - the joy we ought to derive from it.

Celebrated at least since the 6th century, Mary's Assumption was finally fully defined as a dogma only in my lifetime. As the then Pope, Pius XII, wrote on that occasion:

Christ's faithful, through the teaching and the leadership of their pastors, have learned from the sacred books that the Virgin Mary, throughout the course of her earthly pilgrimage, led a life troubled by cares, hardships, and sorrows, and that, moreover, what the holy old man Simeon had foretold actually came to pass, that is, that a terribly sharp sword pierced her heart as she stood under the cross of her divine Son, our Redeemer. In the same way, it was not difficult for them to admit that the great Mother of God, like her only begotten Son, had actually passed from this life. But this in no way prevented them from believing and from professing openly that her sacred body had never been subject to the corruption of the tomb, and that the august tabernacle of the Divine Word had never been reduced to dust and ashes. [Munificentissimus Deus, 14].

Assumed into heaven, Mary links the Church as we are now with the Church as we hope to be. when Christ has destroyed every sovereignty and every other authority and power. And the last enemy to be destroyed in death. [1 Corinthians 15:26-27]

Conscious as we all are of our own death to come, death often seems like the ultimate atttack on all our hopes. Our world is full of natural disasters, inexplicable personal tragedies, and deliberate destruction. Violence and sickness seem to surround us. So powerful does the dragon of death appear, that it dared to attack even Jesus. Only after death had done its worst did God decisively step in, conquering death by raising Jesus from the dead. In Christ, God has given us an alternative future. And, in Mary, Christ's resurrection has, so to speak, become contagious. In Mary's assumption, God has shown himself as her life and her hope - and so also our life and our hope.

Today, Mary magnifies the Lord on high. She has already led the way for us in being there. May she now also show us how to get there. For where she is, there we hope to be.

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, August 15, 2018.

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