Forty-seventh in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption
Readings: Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab; 1 Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56
At the Ascension of Jesus, our destiny was revealed. Today, in the Assumption of Mary, that destiny is confirmed.
Today’s great feast celebrates the belief that, at the end of her life, the Mother of God was taken into (Latin, assumpta) the heavenly realm both body and soul. In the East this belief is known as the Dormition, the “falling asleep” of the Mother of God, for that is all the extent of death that she felt. Through both her Dormition and her Assumption, Mary becomes the first of God’s creation to enjoy the total fulfillment of what we all hope for: eternal life in the presence of God. By virtue of this awesome privilege she is able to intercede for us with her divine Son more directly than any of the Saints. She is the Queen Mother of the eternal King, Queen over both heaven and earth. In this way Mary, with Jesus, presides over the entire Church – aiding the faithful, comforting the suffering, and rejoicing with the blessed – and she is the example to all the Church’s members of the hope to be realized.
The Book of Revelation encapsulates this cosmic reality in our First Reading within its elevated language and apocalyptic symbolism. While the image of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” may have originally been intended by the author as an icon of the persecuted Church, it has become one the most enduring representations of Mary in Catholic consciousness. Indeed, the Blessed Mother even endowed the tilma of Guadalupe in the 16th century with a similar image to reward and confirm Saint Juan Diego’s faith. But this reading offers another, perhaps less considered, image of our eternal Queen Mother. The passage’s opening line reads: “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” Since the days of the Church Fathers, Mary has been referred to as the Ark of the New Covenant; she herself was the dwelling place of the incarnate presence of God as she carried Jesus during her pregnancy. She is the Holy of Holies of the everlasting Temple, containing within herself the One Who cannot be contained by the entire universe.
Just as King David went to Judah to retrieve the original Ark, so now the new Ark journeys to Judah in our Gospel Reading. Just as David danced before the original Ark as the Presence was being brought to Jerusalem, where it would be ministered to by the priestly class, so now the gestating Baptist leaps inside Elizabeth as the new Ark brings the Presence into the house of his priestly father. Just as the original Ark itself proclaimed the pattern of the divine Presence by virtue of its own construction and form, so now the new Ark sings before Elizabeth to illustrate the pattern of God’s saving actions through earthly history. The great Magnificat hymn, while it was likely embellished and refined by local tradition before it came to rest in Luke’s Gospel, is the true song of Mary’s joy as she begins to understand her role in God’s master plan – and it remains our song of joy too, as the Church sings it every evening. “[H]e has remembered his promise of mercy,” we sing with her, feeling her tremendous faith, her radical hope, and her incomprehensible charity. No wonder Bishop Barron has called her “our fallen nature’s solitary boast.” She is the very model of our own ministry of mercy, manifesting great cosmic love through her humble motherly care.
Saint Paul, in the Second Reading, speaks of the order in which we shall all be brought to life: “Christ, the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ.” What a thing to ponder! At the end He will come for each one of us – “those who have fallen asleep” – and bid our earthly bodies rise from death, forever reunited with our heavenly souls to (hopefully) enjoy eternity in a true fullness of life. And even more ponderous than that, what a beautiful moment that must have been for the Blessed Mother! Even after hearing and reading the Magnificat today, or singing and hearing it every evening, can we even imagine the joy Mary must have felt seeing her risen Son come for her? And yet, why should we think it strange, or mysterious? Through her, the death that came about through the actions of Man was canceled out by the resurrection of the God-Man. Because of Eve, the Fall “came through man;” because of Mary, the Redemption “came also through man.” Even though “in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.” Is it any wonder that Mary should be granted this special privilege, that she whose Yes enabled us all to achieve the destiny intended for us should be the first to experience that destiny?
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” the divinely inspired Elizabeth says to her young relative. How blessed, indeed. And how blessed are we if we do the same. He guarantees it; she demonstrates it. He is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep;” she is the first of “those who have fallen asleep.”
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant:
from this day all generations will call me blessed.”