Thursday, August 15, 2019


Years ago - 49 years to be exact - I was a college student studying in Austria, and on the feast of the Assumption, which was, of course, a legal holiday, the churches all sang Mozart's Coronation Mass. and I remember watching how people went from church to church comparing choirs - the Kyrie here, the Gloria across the street, the Credo down the block, etc.  Whereas in traditionally Catholic European countries the Assumption is still a legal holiday, for the rest of us, however, the Church's great annual summer "feel-good" festival - the oldest and most important of all of her feasts - may perhaps pass almost or entirely unnoticed, sandwiched into the middle of the post-modern work week, filled as it already is with frenzy, fury, and folly.

While this neglect in no way diminishes Mary's heavenly glory, it does diminish - and deprive us of - the joy we ought to derive from it.

At the end of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council, as part of its lengthy meditation on Mary, recalled that the immaculate Virgin preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things (LG 59), and that the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and the beginning of the church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise, she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (LG 68).

So, while we celebrate today something wonderful which happened to Mary at the end of her life one earth, we also celebrate our continued connection with her and with her Risen Son in the Church.

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].

Assumed into heaven, Mary links the Church as we are now with the Church as we hope to be.

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, 2019.

(Photo: The Assumption altarpiece oil painting by the early 16th-century Italian Renaissance artist Titian on the high altar of the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice.)

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