Sunday ~ 15 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass (Mass during the day): I: Revelation 11: 19a; 12: 1 – 6a, 10; Responsorial: Psalm 45: II: I Corinthians 15: 20 – 27: Gospel: Luke 1: 39 – 56
August 15th on the Church calendar is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year this great celebration comes to us on a Sunday. The origins of this feast are veiled in antiquity. However, there are numerous indications that it was celebrated in the church as early as AD 500. Belief in the Assumption has been a part of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity for centuries. Mention of the event is found in the writings of the early church fathers as early as the second century. In the Catholic faith, Pope Pius XII affirmed this as infallible teaching in 1950.
The actual date of the death and assumption of the Virgin Mother is uncertain. Long-held tradition places her dormition anywhere from three to fifteen years after the resurrection of her Son. The location is uncertain as well but tradition places it either in Jerusalem or Ephesus. That there is the church with Mary’s empty tomb in Jerusalem tends to add merit for many.
The Church of the Tomb of the BVM and her empty tomb
It is, in many ways, fitting that the temporal specifics are less than clear as this profound event is first and foremost a lesson of thresholds. The death and assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a vivid reminder of that eternal threshold of which we are called to cross, the threshold of eternity. It is also a passionate message of the desire of God that when that threshold is crossed it be into Heaven for eternity.
The Assumption of Mary is believed to have occurred after her actual death. Tradition (Catholic and Orthodox) holds that the apostles witnessed her passing. It was, from the beginning, always seen as a powerful and distinct affirmation of the fullness of holy grace that infused this young Jewish woman and enabled her to be a living tabernacle for Emmanuel, God with us. It is, then, a celebration of Mary, the Theotokos, (Mother of God). It is a blessed time to acknowledge Mary, the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of all believers.
But in Mary’s powerful affirmation at her Annunciation when she was told by the angel that she would bear the Messiah she responded: “My soul does magnify the Lord…”. It is therefore not surprising that at her passing and assumption into Heaven Mary continued to magnify Christ. And, as she always did seek to bring us ever closer to her Son.
The Assumption of Mary is a dynamic and resounding affirmation and lesson of the resurrection of Jesus. It is also an undeniable message of the intent of God for the faithful to share in the resurrection victory. As Scripture proclaims: “Death is swallowed up in victory!” The taking into Heaven by the angels of God for the Mother of Jesus illustrates this truth in the boldest of ways. The great painter Caravaggio captures this holy story in his painting of the Assumption.
In the classic Caravaggio dark setting, the apostles mourn the death of Mary. Mary Magdalene is seen distraught beside her. But already, in the background, some are sensing this is not as usual! The reality of Marys’s death cannot be denied. But already there is an holy wind of hope stirring their souls as they start to look upward. The angels were coming! The Annunciation of Mary clearly proclaims the resurrection hope and promise for the faithful.
But this hope we share with our Blessed Mother is also for our soul. Church teaching is very clear. Mary was assumed, body and soul into Heaven to reign with God. God created our soul for eternity. Through the birth, death and resurrection of Christ all stain of sin is conquered. This brings us to know we are called to be seated with Him, with Mary, in heavenly places as St. Paul expresses in his epistles. Our soul, created, loved, redeemed by God is intended to be present and rejoicing in the heavenly kingdom. Body and soul Mary, the first disciple of Christ leads the way once again in her assumption.
The promise, the plan, our heavenly hope, shared by Mary at her Assumption is that the fullness of who we are, body and soul, in heaven will be freed to experience the fullest freedom found in the Holy Spirit. Mary shows us what St. Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica what it is to be set apart for God, spirit, soul and body.
We will then proclaim, to the eternal glory of God, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”