Feast of the Assumption

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.


18 Responses to Feast of the Assumption

  1. Anonymous says:

    The dispensation was granted so that those who lived in extremely rural areas would be able to avoid the burden of traveling long distances two days in a row.

    Generally a good idea where there are circuit rider Priests and Catholics are heavily dispersed.

    Clearly this doesn’t apply to any of the east coast Diocese, but because of the USCCB every Diocese adopted it. The Ordinary could still encourage it and ask his Priests to keep the Holy Day schedule, I suspect most Faithful would attend.

    Most Parishes don’t even have evening Masses conducive to working people attending on the Holy Day. I suspect you’ll find more Clergy on the golf course on many of these Holy Days than in Church.

    This is yet another teachable moment that has been missed.

  2. Presbyter says:

    While I understand anonymous’ point about the Holy Day schedule and agree with his or her that the Diocese’s of the East and West coast could certainly keep the Holy Day schedule. I think to make a statement that you’ll find more clergy on the golf course than in Church is a ridiculous and insulting statement to make. The fact is it is the people NOT coming to Mass on Holy Days of obligation that lead to not having a Mass in the evening…people do not come and you can have a Mass at 9pm when everyone should be home from work and people won’t come, we’ve tried 7pm and 7:30pm and nobody comes. The point is, it doesn’t matter what the time is they don’t come. I know it is fashionable to blame the clergy for all the problems of the Church but when are lay people going to take up their responsibility as well. I know, I know we don’t preach well enough, we don’t preach about the right things, we don’t burn ourselves out so that there will be fewer priests, we take vacations or even days off…I know we are a bad lot with no personalities and bad theology, those 6 years in seminary meant nothing. I know all that because I read it all the time on blogs, usually anonymous, and in the comment box, but still I read it and it makes me angry because most of my priest friends are working hard and with fewer resources and certainly with fewer brother priests because people do not promote vocations in their families anymore. And you know the topper…I don’t even play golf, can’t afford it and find it dull.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ok, maybe the throw away line about golf came off harsher than it should have, the points are :

      Many diocese make Mass attendance seem less important by cutting back, there seems to be an attitude “no one is going to show up anyway so why bother” (this also ties into the rushed Masses, but another discussion)…kind of misses the point of Grace.

      Second, with the cluster format currently in place in this Diocese in particular, it would be very easy for one of Parish of a cluster of three plus to schedule on 6 pm Mass on a Holy Day. There are only a few (one?) of these Monday Holy Days per year – you wouldn’t need to vary the schedule on a Saturday.

      I should also note, that I have two Priests in the family, they keep a full Holy Day schedule when the dispensation is granted where possible…one did eight in the Seminary the other six.

      Lastly, I would be very happy to have a son a Priest, though I would rather he ended up in an order, I think they treat there guys better (entirely opinion based on one Diocesan and one order Priest in the family)

  3. jbq2 says:

    Here’s the rub. Feminists in the anti Church movement within the Church have used the Assumption to destroy the Church from within. They have pushed the issue of “co Redemption”. There is no doubt of the greatness of Mary and her greatness is seen as a mother and a giving life. Vatican II took issue with this and the “Super Force” of Malachi Martin took control of the reform. JPII “righted the ship” but the issue of Mary as “wonder woman” still beats in the hearts of the liberal woman Catholic. This is especially seen in attacks on the family and the supremacy of “personal fulfillment”. There is currently on PBS from the BBC “Behind Closed Doors” which include the taking over of Poland by Stalin. As people are removed from their homes, it is quite obvious that almost every home had a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

  4. Rev. Albert J. Sallese says:

    “JUST WONDERING” why you started your beautiful article with the statement that today is “A HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATION’? Because of the dispensations granted, it still a HOLY DAY, — BUT not a HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATION. Doesn’t mean you cannot go to Church, simply means it is not OBLIGATORY to attend Mass. Those who have replied, don’t be so fast to judge Priests. Many parishes now have only ONE Priest and some One Priests are covering two or three Parishes. That is why at every Mass I celebrate I pray: “That God will help us provide an increase of vocations to our Priesthood, the Diaconate and the Religious Consecrated life.”
    I, too, found the comment about “golf” insulting and in poor taste. Pray for Priests and ask Mary to help them for they find themselves in very difficult situations today. God Bless all our Priests and, yes, God bless all the wonderful people who went to Mass today (even tho they wer not obligated to do do). Amen.

    • Fr. Sallese,
      Thanks for the positive feedback on the article! BCI started with the statement that it was a “holy day of obligation” because that is how the Decree of Promulgation by the USCCB, approved by the Holy See, referred to it:

      National Conference of Catholic Bishops, United States of America
      Decree of Promulgation

      On December 13, 1991 the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of America made the following general decree concerning holy days of obligation for Latin rite Catholics:

      In addition to Sunday, the days to be observed as holy days of obligation in the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States of America, in conformity with canon 1246, are as follows:
      January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God;
      Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension;
      August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
      November 1, the solemnity of All Saints;
      December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception;
      December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.

      Since the USCCB still defined the Feast of the Assumption as a “Holy Day of Obligation” where the requirement to attend Mass is abrogated when the feast falls on a Monday, BCI felt it appropriate to still refer to today as a Holy Day of Obligation.

      BCI had no idea this would spark such discussion–we thought it would be one of our most innocuous and least controversial posts.

  5. Plain Patty says:

    Why are we all so enamored and mesmerized by finger pointing and blaming? The fact of the matter is Sunday Mass attendance is down. Holy Day Mass attendance is almost non-existent. Let us deal with this reality and get moving developing plans to reverse this tide. Is the answer education, is the answer stronger sermons, is the answer a more visable presence by the bishops, priests proclaiming the precepts of our faith and the requirements which accompany them? The answer is yes to these and there are many, many more potental answers. The Catholic faith requires much, it is not easy and we need to understand that and not wimp it down.

    I have found that being angry at what is, is useless. It is the devil’s tool to muddy the water and sap energy from productive channels to reach plans of action. If we (the Body of Christ) prayerfully work on the solutions of the issues that are facing us, the better and stronger we are. We shall be united in purpose rather than divided in castigation. I don’t know about you but I would rather be part of the solution then part of the problem……so count me in.


    • Frajs says:

      Thank you, PLAIN PATTY, for your great response. You have given me great thoughts for study, contemplationl, prayer and action. Thank you, and God Bless You!

  6. Anonymous says:

    One of the former days off at the Archdiocese.

  7. doubting pastor says:

    Maybe everybody complaining about the lack of people’s presence in church during a holy day — either obligatory or not — should just spend time in church praying for their brothers and sistins in faith rather than wimpering, complaining and criticizing others Boston Catholic Insider began as a tool that helped us understand the inner workings and problems confronting the Archdiocese of Boston, In that it has been an excellant tool in helping us to know what is happening in the dark that should and can be revealed in the light. But when it takes on a holier than thou attitude and simply becomes a rag for pious complaining it does all of us a disservice.

    I agree with Father Al Sallese. But I do go one step further. Who are we to judge others? Do we know all of the reasons why people did not go to Mass today? Who made “Anonymous” judge and jury?

    The whole arguement in BCI today just makes me want to go out and play a few holes of golf (even though it’s raining and I don play).Instead I think I’ll just say our 7:00 pm Mass tonight.

    • Doubting pastor,

      Thanks for the positive feedback on what BCI has done here helping people become aware of the inner workings and problems in the Boston Archdiocese. BCI is somewhat baffled by what we may have posted today that conveyed anything like a “holier than thou attitude.” Can you help explain further where we went wrong? The post today was just intended to commemorate the feast day. Our frustration over Catholics in the U.S. not being obliged to attend Mass today was not directed at priests or laity–if anything, it was directed to the U.S. Catholic bishops for their decision of 1991. Where did BCI go wrong in our post today? Or should we have simply removed the snide comments from readers?

      This piece from the Pastor’s Cotner in the bulletin at St. Teresa in West Roxbury resonated with BCI:


      August 14, 2011

      Monday, August 15- – – tomorrow- – – is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother of God into heaven. In a decision which is not easy for the average person- – – including myself- – – to understand, the Feast of the Assumption is not a holy day of obligation in the United States if it falls on a Saturday or on a Monday. This was decided upon several years ago by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Their decision had something to do with the difficulties experienced in rural dioceses of the United States where there is a shortage of priests and where it would be difficult to celebrate two full days of Masses on a weekend.

      The decision was made with most of the Bishops in opposition, but a minority of the Bishops of the time prevailed on a procedural issue. As I recall it, the majority of the Bishops were lacking one or two votes to maintain all the Holy Days as days of obligation. My brother now refers to January 1, August 15, and November 1 (All Saints Day) as “non-holy holy days” when they occur on a Saturday or a Monday!!

      That being said, the Feast of the Assumption is one of the most significant expressions of the Faith of the Catholic Church in the privileged position Mary has in the life of the Church and in our own lives. We, as Catholics, honor and venerate Mary with great devotion and gratitude because she consented to become the Mother of God in the Flesh, she gave us Our Savior and Redeemer, she made it possible for the Son of God to become one of us, to make of Himself a perfect and acceptable sacrifice of atonement for our sins.

      We honor Mary not only for what she did, but also for how she did it. She freely, and with great love for God, submitted herself to Him and what He asked her to do. She did not count the personal cost to herself. Her attitude is very clearly expressed in her words to the Archangel Gabriel, when she responded to God’s request that she become the Mother of His Son with enormous generosity and simplicity: “ I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to His Word!”

      In God’s mysterious plan for the forgiveness of our sins, for the restoration to us of God’s grace, and for the gift of salvation and eternal life, God waited on Mary’s consent to launch the Incarnation of His Son, the one and only Savior of every human person- – – past, present, and to come.

      The Doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heaven, was not formally defined as a matter of Catholic Faith until August 15, 1950- – -just 61 years ago. The Pope at the time was Pius XII. As a matter of fact, however, the Assumption of Mary into heaven was part of the life of Faithful Catholics going back to the second century. It was in the consciousness of the early Christians, as witness the following words from an early Christian writer: “Therefore, as the most glorious Mother of Christ, Our God and Savior, giver of life and immortality, she is enlivened by Him to share an eternal incorruptibility of body with Him Who raised her from the tomb and took her up to Himself in a way He alone can tell.” (AAS 42)

      In the Apostolic Constitution on the Assumption of Mary into heaven, publicly proclaimed by Pius XII on August 15, 1950, we find the following:

      Hence the august Mother of God, mysteriously united from all eternity with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a virgin inviolate in her divine motherhood, the whole-hearted companion of the divine Redeemer Who won complete victory over sin and its consequences, gained at last the supreme crown of her privileges- – to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and, like her Son, when death had been conquered, to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven, there to sit in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the Immortal King of the ages.”

      In those formal words of Pope Pius XII, we see the reasons why Catholics hold fast to the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother into Heaven. She has preceded us, body and soul, to heaven, to the Presence of God. She is where we hope to be, where we are struggling to go when our lives here in this world have come to an end. Where she now is, she intercedes on our behalf to her Divine Son.

      And this is the reason we will have four Masses on Monday, August 15, tomorrow- – -even though there is no obligation to attend Mass as was explained above. We all need all the help we can get to obtain the gift of salvation. We know that honoring the Blessed Mother is a very effective prayer on our behalf. We remember what Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in his prayer to Mary: “never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided.” “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen”

      The Feast of the Assumption, in the present dispensation of the Catholic Church in the United States, may seem, this year, because it is on a Monday, to be what my brother jokingly calls a “non-holy holy day”. But, in fact, it is the Feast of the Mother of God, who is interceding for us, helping us on our journey through this life to the Presence of God.

      By the way, the Masses for August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven are as follows: 6:45 A.M., 9:00 A.M., 4:00 P.M., and 7:30 P.M. They will be in the Main Church. Everyone is most welcome!

      Monsignor William M. Helmick, Pastor

    • Michael says:

      Doubting Pastor … as satire, I find your post funny. As much as your post was intended as a complaint, I find your post disingenuous. You complain about others acting holier than thou … while I saw no evidence of anyone acting “holier than thou.” Certainly not BCI. You then go on to mock anonymous (obviously having been hurt by anonymous’ golf statement) and consequently engage in the very conduct you complain about … whining and complaining.

      I thought BCI’s post encouraging people to attend Mass today to be in the spirit of BCI which is always to uplift the faithful and teach.

  8. Serviam says:

    We celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother of God at St. Cathernine of Genoa in Somerville with a Missa Cantata in the Extraordinary Form this evening. It was the first such celebration of the ancient form of the Roman Rite at St. Catherine’s since 1965. Fr. Jason Worthley was the celebrant. Thank you Father. I’m sure you made our Lady smile.

  9. Serviam says:

    The above should read: “….celebration with the ancient form…” My apologies.

  10. Boston Catholic Insider says:

    Anonymous, your unsubstantiated dig at priests being out at golf courses on Holy days fits is insulting to the clergy and is to be avoided here.You are at the precipitous edge of “one strike and you’re out.” If you would like to continue commenting here, you will need to avoid such attacks.

  11. doubting pastor says:

    Somehow I think attacking preiests as ‘out playing golf’ is a holier than thou judgement. I was offended by the comment. My days off are spent at a hospital doing chaplancy work. And I am not whining and complaining about it. Just stating a fact. I was not attacking BCI but attacking the person who made the comment. BCI is a light and should be kept as such. The laity and parish priests do not need to square off with each other. We should remain united. God knows we have a big enough fight on other fronts. Obviously, anonymous simply doesn’t know how to say ‘Sorry, Father”.

  12. Ray Neary says:

    Pope Benedict’s rich homily of a year ago could not help but stir reflection in me of some experiences with life and death My mother’s sudden departure from this earthly existence over a half century ago was a blow of indescribable physical pain and grief. And when we lost our son similarly four years ago, it brought back the same mental state. But in the maturity of faith the latter experience revealed awareness not only that we are always only a heartbeat from eternity, but that it is not a far off land. No, it is only a dimension. With this realization, the grace of God and the promises in the Word, closeness rather than distance has been a powerful sustaining force.

  13. Mack says:

    Thanks, BCI, for printing Msgr. Helmick’s explanation of how the vote at the bishops’ conference happened. I hadn’t known it was so close. I feel we’re missing something as a church when these holydays are not observed. Certainly, many people have to work and for that reason may not be able to attend Mass, and in such cases are excused from any obligation. But in many other cases, people could participate in Mass without any great difficulty. During football season I’ve heard stories from people I work with about how they brave all kinds of cold weather to go to the Patriot’s games (and few of the Catholics among them go to Mass!). When people are committed to something, no difficulty is too great. Perhaps, though, we need to ponder more the warning to the bishop of the church in Ephesus, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and to the works you did at first.” (Rev 2:4ff).

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