Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
First Reading: Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 45:10-12, 16
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 15:20-27
Gospel: According to St. Luke 1:39-56
For most Catholics, this feast brings to mind processions of statues of the Blessed Mother through Italian neighborhoods and parish festivals where things like climbing greased poles and eating stromboli and cannoli are time-honored traditions. In Cleveland, as it must be in other cities with large Catholic populations, when someone says that they are going to “The Feast” no one needs to ask which one.
Besides being one of the great celebrations of Catholic culture, the Assumption gets to the heart of Catholic theology: It is an example of the link between faith and reason, as well as a manifestation of the importance of Mary as our Mother and our guide.
One of the most important characteristics of Catholic theology is its marriage of the faith of Abraham and his descendants with the reason of the Greek philosophers. Only within that context could a theological dogma like the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin be promulgated.
Those who claim to adhere to either faith or reason - rather than both - could never come to the conclusion that Pope Pius XII came to in 1950 that Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” Faith alone says “that’s not in the Bible,” while reason alone says “that can’t be done.” Catholic theology says: In light of the salvific nature of the Paschal Mystery and the immaculate life of Mary it is logical to conclude that she was in no need of a period of purgation when her time on earth ended, and that it is reasonable to also conclude that God would desire her assumption just as He desired her Son’s ascension.
Just as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception declares that Mary was given a singular grace in being conceived without Original Sin, so does the dogma of the Assumption give her the unique experience of moving instantly from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant. And yet, we are called to look to our own lives in light of both of these events in the life of the Blessed Mother: her Immaculate Conception is a prefiguring of our Baptism and her Assumption is a foreshadowing of our hoped-for entrance into God’s Kingdom.
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday the Church points us not to the events of the Assumption - which are extra-biblical - but to the Feast of the Visitation, and in doing so She directs our attention to the path that we must follow in order to one day take our place as Mary’s children in Heaven. In the passage read at Mass, St. Luke quotes Mary’s recitation of the Magnificat, the prayer praising God for what He has done for her, and in that prayer we see not only how God works in the world but how we are to approach this merciful Father.
There is a sharp contrast between, on the one hand, the “lowly servant” who “fears” God and is “lifted up” and, on the other hand, the proud who are “scattered...in their conceit” and the “mighty” whom the Lord is “casting down...from their thrones.” This is not only a keen theological insight into how the Father acts in the world, but is also a prophetic overture to the Beatitudes where those who are lowly and who fear God will be glorified and live in eternal beatitude or joy.
So Mary is both unique in history as well as a model for every Christian. But for those who call on her she is even more than that - she is a loving Mother who reigns as Queen of Heaven. All who live as she did and rely on her help can be assured that the King will remember “His promise of mercy, the promise made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”