First of all, let me clarify that today we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, not the feast of the Visitation which is illustrated in our Gospel today. The feast of the Visitation commemorates the Blessed Mother’s visit to Elizabeth and is celebrated on my anniversary of ordination, May 31st.
But… In 1950, five years after the end of the carnage of the Second World War which had ruptured the peace of the world, and during which millions of human beings made in the image and likeness of God had been killed or slaughtered, Pope Pius XII promulgated the doctrine of the Assumption, the feast we celebrate today; a teaching about the value of an individual human life for all of humanity.
He declared in the apostolic constitution “The most bountiful God” that ‘the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, on completing the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.’ The human being who most reflected the splendor of her Son’s humanity and his obedient response to the Father’s will did not undergo separation from him. She who was at his side on the Way of the Cross and who accepted the role of Mother of the Church at the foot of the cross was called to his side in heavenly glory. An assumption is not an ascension. The only one to have ascended into heaven is Jesus. His ascension was an active movement, while Mary’s assumption is passive movement, in the nature of a gift. For her heavenly glory is not a place but an intensified relationship. She was taken up to be where Christ is. In her the Lord fulfills his promise to the Church ‘where I am you may be also.’ (Jn.14.3)
Mary’s assumption is dependent upon the ascension of Jesus. In him our human nature is glorified and taken up into the communion of the Holy Trinity. We stand between the already and the not yet. We have been redeemed but have not yet fully appropriated the fruits of that redemption won for us by Christ. We stand between the two worlds of time and eternity. We are still pilgrims on the way. The process of transformation and transfiguration which is promised to us, and which even now is continuing in the Church is achieved in the Mother of God. She is no longer on the way. She is a pilgrim no longer.
… A kaleidoscope of images are presented in our first reading from the book of Revelation, which includes “the Woman clothed with the sun.”
Here, this woman seems to stand for the People of Israel, the Christian Church, and Mary – the Blessed Virgin Mary who welcomed the Messiah on behalf of the faithful People of Israel, and who represents the Christian Church. The Woman gives birth in anguish. But…it is important to recognize that this is not necessarily the Birth at Bethlehem, which may come to mind first, – early Christians believed that that Birth was without pain, implying they sensed that Mary was without Original Sin, therefore no pain. Rather, the anguished birth, which is spoken of took place on Calvary, where the Creator, the New Adam, suffered the birth-pangs of the new creation to bring forth resurrection life. Mary, as the New Eve, stood by him in compassion, on behalf of the whole of creation which groans in travail in solidarity with its Maker further illustrated in Romans chapter 8.
So, make no mistake, all that Mary said yes to was not possible without the boundless love and mercy of God, as Mary proclaims in her response to Elizabeth in the Gospel. Even the glory of her assumption into heaven, which we celebrate today is found in God. That is why Mary proclaims, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior…” The blessed virgin Mary always points to God!
So, what does this feast have to do with us? Jesus’ victory over sin and death flowed in a unique way, with outstanding intensity, to his Mother, but it did so as a pledge that it can flow to us. Mary did not accept the role of mother of the savior for herself but for the world.
- The Spirit who went ahead of Mary to keep her from sin, goes ahead of us to free us from sin.
- Jesus who preserved her body from decay, will call us back to life.
- And her prayers support us on our journey, as we seek to be conformed more
The resurrection of Christ is not simply an isolated event in the chain of events of his biography it is the achievement and disclosure in him of the Father’s purpose. The gift he has won for us, eternal life, is precisely for all of us, for the whole of humanity. As we unite ourselves to Christ in receiving his Body and Blood, may Mary, the most perfect representative of those who hear the Word of God, and do it, pray for us sinners …and help us to be faithful as she was faithful, that one day we may be united to her and her son forever. May we see in the glory given to her, the mother of the church, our own destiny revealed.