While we celebrate this Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, many of us may not really know what this celebration is about. On November 1 st, 1950,Pope Pius XII pronounced the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith. This dogma was proclaimed only after a broad consultation of bishops, theologians and laity of our Church. There were very few objections to this dogma. Thus, what the Pope solemnly declared was actually an affirmation of an already common belief amongst our believers in the whole Catholic Church.
Pope Pius XII’ words were, “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.” This belief in Our Lady’s Assumption has been preached in homilies since the 6 th century.
Mary being the Mother of Jesus is very closely related to Her Son. Thus, this being so, the dogma confirms that Mary too must share with Him, body and soul in His eternal glory in heaven.
There are two different interpretations in the Church of this dogma of Assumption. One view is that Mary, was taken wholly and fully, without any death, body and soul into heaven when her time of life on earth came to an end.
The Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini - National Gallery, London
Another view held that Mary did die before she was assumed into heaven. However, because we believe that Mary did not commit any sin throughout her earthly life, and thus did not have to suffer the penalty of death like all other human beings after Adam and Eve, she died from the agony of a heart torn by the sufferings of Her beloved Son’ Passion and death. Both these views are acceptable in the Church.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see more clearly why Mary is called “blessed art thou amongst all women;” indeed, amongst all human persons. Being the Mother of Jesus, she is truly so special amongst all of God’s creation. She is the closest and most intimately related to God in whole human race. Being so “blessed” by God we also know that Mary, who was crowned with the glory of heaven, was also burdened with the cross of sorrow when she accepted God’s invitation to be the Mother of God.
We all too, when we die, want to share the eternal glory of Jesus whom we believe as our Saviour and Lord. That is why we are here at Mass, as Catholics, to celebrate today’s Feast of the Assumption. However, we too, like Mary are chosen to live in God’s ways and fulfil His Will in our daily living. This is so that others who long to live a more meaningful life will find our lives to be an inspiration that all want to follow.
How many of us can say that we live lives that inspire and influence others like our own family members, relatives, friends and even strangers to love God or at least draw them closer to God? What have we done for others that remind them of Christ? Has it been the way we were generous to them when they were in need, or how we were forgiving when they hurt us, or how we understood their struggles in life and supported them compassionately when they were sick, aged and dying, or how we helped them back to the practice of their faith when they were angry with God and the Church, through praying for them and the like?
My sisters and brothers in Christ, today’s Feast of the Assumption is a renewal of our faith in God who wants us to live our lives with Him in heaven and for all eternity. There can be no other more precious gift, hope and dream that we each can have than eternal life. But, such a precious gift of God must be lived out concretely in our daily living. How can we do this?
In today’s Gospel, the Magnificat of Mary, not only a beautiful expression of Mary’s deep faith, hope and love for God. It is also a radical challenge to live in God’s ways. Commentators tell us that the Magnificat of Mary is a radical and revolutionary moral, social and economic challenge to our daily living and view of life.
First, Mary says that “God scatters the proud of heart.” This is a moral challenge that reminds us that if we want to live in the light of Christ, then we have to die to our pride. Pride, St Ignatius of Loyola tells us, is a vice that can weaken us so fundamentally that all other vices can follow from it. Pride is putting ourselves at the center of our daily living and refusing to respect and value that others too are important and right. God then becomes unimportant in life; pride is a kind of false “security” that makes us arrogant and rigid; it denies who we truly are; a child loved by God and blessed by God to love others, as Christ has loved us.
Second, “God casts down princes from their thrones and exalts the lowly.” Here we are faced with a social challenge. This challenge is to see how the prestige, power and popularity that the world upholds are empty and will eventually be pulled down and demolished by God. God, in Christ humbled Himself in the person of Jesus to love and serve all our needs; most importantly, Christ came because He wants all of us to live with Him in all eternity. Thus, the Magnificat of Mary, reminds us that faith is Christ is about the service and not the domination of others. We are all called to entrust our lives to the divine power of God and not on the power and influences of this world that are passing. Once we are able to live and love as God wills of us instead of how the secular world wishes of us, we will surely find the fulfillment in life that comes from living a life that is humble; a life that respects God as the almighty power and not any power.
Third, “God fills the hungry with good things, and the rich He sent empty away.” Here we are faced with an economic challenge:God is not against the possession of riches, but against the amassing of riches where the poor and needy around us are ignored and worse still, exploited for our gains. While God has blessed us with plenty, we are each challenged to share our blessings with others. When we experience the freedom of not being pressured to possess people and material wealth, we will experience an openness in our hearts that draws great joy and consolation in living a more meaningful life for God. . . and serving His people. But, when our riches possess us, then we will go away in this life, and die a death that is “empty” and meaningless as the Magnificat tells us.
To conclude, let us remind ourselves on this Feast that first we are all created by God to enjoy eternal life; that’s our goal and purpose in life. We are not called to be possessed by the secular things in life that eventually can only bring emptiness and pain at the time of our death. Mary the Mother of Jesus is so blessed by God precisely she is able to live her whole life faithfully and fervently for God at all times. She is given the crown of glory, as we celebrate this Feast also because she was asked to carry the cross of sorrow that comes with living our lives in God’s ways. Let us take the Magnificat of Mary to heart and ponder on the beauty of its truth and open our hearts to God’s challenge for us morally, socially and economically. Once we are able to open our hearts to this three fold challenge, I am sure the graces of this Feast will transform our hearts to live our lives in God’s ways.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.