The tradition of the Assumption of Mary dates back to the very earliest days of the Church, all the way back to the days of the apostles. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 tells us that, after Mary’s death, the apostles opened the tomb, finding it empty, and concluded that she had been taken bodily into heaven. The tradition was spoken about by the various fathers of the Church, and in the eighth century, St. John Damascene wrote, “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay… You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.” The current celebration of Mary’s Assumption has taken place since 1950, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus, saying: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.”
And so we have gathered here this evening to celebrate the life of Mary, Mother of God, the first of the disciples of Jesus her son. What is important for us to see in this feast is that it proclaims with all the joy the Church can muster that what happened to Mary can and will happen for us who believe. We too have the promise of eternal life in heaven, where death and sin and pain will no longer have power over us. Because Christ caught his Blessed Mother back up into his life in heaven, we know that we too can be caught up with his life in heaven. On that great day, the sting of death will be completely obliterated, as St. Paul tells us today.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus seems to cast his mother to the side. But what is important for us to see in this short little passage is that he is rather extending the blessing to all those who believe. Saying, “Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it” includes his own mother since, obviously, she heard the Word of God – the voice of her own Son – and observed it to the point of accepting a life of hardship as she gave her Son to the world. In fact, she leads us into blessing by being the first and best example of living the Word of God.
Mary’s life wasn’t always easy, but Mary’s life was redeemed. That is good news for us who have difficult lives or find it hard to live our faith. There are those among us too who have unplanned pregnancies. There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger. There are those among us who have to watch a child die. But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.
Mary’s life was a prophecy for us. Like Mary, we are called to a specific vocation to do God’s work in the world. We are called to make sacrifices so that God’s work can be accomplished in us and through us. We can be joyful because God is at work in us. We are called to humility that lets God’s love for others shine through our lives. We are called to lives of faith that translate into action on behalf of others, a faith that leads God’s people to salvation. And one day, we hope to share in the glory that Mary has already received in the kingdom of God.
And so as we gather for this holy feast day, we should be encouraged to strengthen our devotion to Mary, the holy Mother of God, whose life was meant to foreshadow the life of the Church. This feast celebrates the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary, a devotion that I would encourage us all to pray each day. Having recourse to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a privilege for all Christians. She is the one who can intercede for us in good times and in bad, who can be our model in living the life of faith, who can stand by us as we strive to give our own fiat, saying yes, to God’s call, who, having crushed the serpent’s head, can help deliver us from every evil. Praise God for the grace of such a powerful and glorious intercessor!
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.