Today we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. It is a Holy Day of Obligation and one of the most important feasts of the Church year, but the U.S. bishops amended the Church calendar in 1991 by removing the obligation to attend Mass whenever August 15 falls on a Saturday or a Monday. Their action was approved by the Holy See in 1992.
(As an aside, it seems to BCI that either a feast day is important enough that we are expected to attend Mass to celebrate it, or it is not. How does an important feast day falling on a Monday somehow make it unimportant that year, but still important the following year when it falls on a Tuesday? But we digress…)
So, today you are not obligated to attend Mass, but BCI suggests that honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary by attending Mass would still be an excellent idea. Many parishes are celebrating an evening Mass today.
For your prayerful meditation, here is the homily that Pope Benedict XVI gave in 2010 on this feast day:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,Today the Church celebrates one of the most important feasts of the liturgical year dedicated to Mary Most Holy: the Assumption. At the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken in soul and body to heaven, that is, to the glory of eternal life, in full and perfect communion with God.
Celebrated this year is the 60th anniversary since the Venerable Pope Pius XII solemnly defined this dogma on Nov. 1, 1950, and I would like to read — although it is somewhat complicated — the form of the dogmatization. The Pope says: “Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages” (Apostolic Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus,” 40).
This is, hence, the nucleus of our faith in the Assumption: we believe that Mary, as Christ her Son, has already conquered death and triumphs now in heavenly glory in the totality of her being, “in soul and body.”
St. Paul, in today’s second reading, helps us to throw some light on this mystery from the central event of human history and from our faith: that is, the event of the resurrection of Christ, who is “the first fruits of those who have died.”
Immersed in his Paschal Mystery, we have been made sharers in his victory over sin and death. Herein is the amazing secret and the key reality of the whole of human history. St. Paul tells us that we were all “incorporated” in Adam, the first and old man, we all have the same human inheritance to which he belongs: suffering, death, sin. However to this reality that all of us can see and live every day he adds something new: We are not only in this inheritance of the one human being, begun with Adam, but we are also “incorporated” in the new man, in the Risen Christ, and thus the life of the Resurrection is already present among us.
Hence, this first biological “incorporation” is incorporation in death, incorporation that generates death. The second, the new one that is given to us in baptism, is “incorporation” that gives life. I quote again today’s Second Letter; St. Paul says: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:21-24).
Now, what St. Paul states about all men, the Church, in her infallible teaching, says of Mary, in a precise way and meaning: the Mother of God is inserted to such a degree in the mystery of Christ that she shares in the resurrection of her Son with her whole being already at the end of her earthly life, she lives what we hope for at the end of time when death, “the last enemy,” will be destroyed (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26); she already lives what we proclaim in the Creed “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Hence, we can ask ourselves: What are the roots of this victory over death anticipated miraculously in Mary? The roots are in the faith of the Virgin of Nazareth, as attested in the passage of the Gospel we heard (Luke 1:39-56): a faith that is obedience to the Word of God and total abandonment to divine initiative and action, according to what the archangel announces to her. Faith, hence, is Mary’s greatness, as Elizabeth joyfully proclaims: Mary is “blessed among women,” “blessed is the fruit of her womb” because she is “the mother of the Lord,” because she believes and lives in a unique way the “first” of the beatitudes, the beatitude of faith. Elizabeth confesses it in her joy and that of the child who leaps in her womb: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (vs. 45).
Dear friends! Let us not limit ourselves to admire Mary in her glorious destiny, as a person who is far from us: no! We are called to see what the Lord, in his love, also willed for us, for our final destiny: to live through faith in perfect communion of love with him and thus to truly live.
In this connection, I would like to pause on an aspect of the dogmatic affirmation, where it speaks of assumption to heavenly glory. All of us are conscious today that with the term “heaven,” we do not refer to some place in the universe, to a star or something similar: no. We refer to something much bigger and more difficult to define with our limited human concepts. With this term “heaven,” we mean to affirm that God, the God who has made himself close to us, does not abandon us, not even in death and beyond it, but that he has a place for us and he gives us eternity; we want to affirm that there is a place for us in God. To understand this reality somewhat more, let us look at our own life: We all know that when a person dies he continues to subsist in the memory and the heart of those who knew and loved him. We could say that a part of that person continues to live in them, but it is as a “shadow” because this survival in the heart of his loved ones is also destined to end. God instead never passes and all of us exist because of his love. We exist because he loves us, because he has thought of us and called us to life. We exist in the thoughts and love of God. We exist in all our reality, not only in our “shadow.” Our serenity, our hope, our peace are founded precisely on this: on God, on his thought and on his love, it is not only a “shadow” of ourselves that survives, but that in him, in his creative love, we are kept and introduced with our whole life, with our whole being into eternity.
It is his love that conquers death and gives us eternity, and it is this love that we call “heaven”: God is so great that he also has a space for us. And the man Jesus, who is at the same time God, is for us the guarantee that being-man and being-God can exist and live eternally in one another. This means that each one of us will not continue existing only in a part that has been, so to speak, wrenched from us, while the rest is ruined; it means rather that God knows and loves the whole man, what we are. And God receives in his eternity what now, in our life, made up of suffering and love, of hope, of joy and sadness, grows and comes to be. The whole man, the whole of his life is taken by God and, purified in him, receives eternity.
Dear friends! I think this is a truth that should fill us with joy. Christianity does not proclaim merely a certain salvation of the soul in some imprecise place beyond, in which everything in this world that was precious and loved by us is erased, but it promises eternal life, “the life of the world to come”: Nothing of what is precious and loved will be ruined, but will find its fulfillment in God. All the hairs of our head are numbered, Jesus said one day (cf. Matthew 10:30). The final world will also be the fulfillment of this earth, as St. Paul states: “creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Understood therefore is that Christianity gives strong hope in a luminous future and opens the way to the realization of this future. We are called, precisely as Christians, to build this new world, to work so that it will become one day the “world of God,” a world that will surpass everything that we ourselves could build. In Mary assumed into heaven, fully sharing in the resurrection of her Son, we contemplate the realization of the human creature according to the “world of God.”
Let us pray to the Lord to make us understand how precious our life is in his eyes; may he reinforce our faith in eternal life; may he make us people of hope, who work to build a world open to God, people full of joy who are able to perceive the beauty of the future world in the midst of the cares of daily life and, with this certainty, live, believe and hope.