Homily for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

21 August

How does heaven celebrate feast days?

Happy feast day; every loves a feast. And in celebrating the Assumption, we also celebrate our national feast. (Mary Assumed into Heaven is the patroness of South Africa.) We can pack away the green vestments for a moment, forget about the humdrum of our day and lean into the sacred festivities. The flowers are spectacular; the vestments are glorious — a cloth of silver with an arresting blue lining. The music is nice. In the Sacred Liturgy itself we proclaim the beauty of the feast. And feasts of Our Lady have a special beauty.

But what about outside the Mass? In some places there will be processions and the blessing of herbs and seedlings. In Sicily, they will dip sponge cake into liqueur and slather it with ricotta cheese; cassata cake is an Assumption Day must.

We do our best, here on earth, to makes sure that feast days are exciting days. This isn’t only because of the many customs that surround their celebration, but because, as we know, each feast is a celebration some mystery that God has worked in the world, either in His Divine Son (like Christmas, Easter, the Transfiguration) or in the lives of the saints. Feast days in honour of Our Lady are especially beautiful: she who is unique amongst the redeemed in Heaven, reigning as Queen, reminds us faithfully that it is the Almighty Who has done great things for her; holy is His Name!

But what happens in heaven on feast days?

Heaven isn’t bound by time; they are caught up in eternity, without a need for watches and calendars. But, at least sentimentally, we would like to think of all the angels and saints celebrating with Our Lady on this special day. So we hope that heaven will have a party! (There is much rejoicing over a sinner who repents, Our Lord teaches us; there is likely much rejoicing in the work of God, too.) How Heaven celebrates is by offering us spiritual gifts: on every feast asks God to share particular graces with us, special ways of living His life on earth.

What are these graces, specifically, for each feast?

Well, it would be difficult for us to say definitively what those graces always are, but there are always graces, especially when we honour the feasts in the Sacred Liturgy and in joyful celebrations like processions, prayers and puddings.

So what is the grace for the Assumption?

The Collect of the Rosary which ends this meditation with Mary on the mysteries of the life of her Son, we ask God that would we would “imitate what [the mysteries] contain”, and “obtain what they promise”. The source of these graces is the “life, death and resurrection” of Christ; the mysteries are occasions of grace where they’re unlocked and offered to us. We could wonder, then, what graces could we receive by celebrating the Assumption? The old prayer books tell us that meditation on the Assumption inspires “devotion to Mary” as its gift. Today, we could ask God to increase in us the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

The Theological Virtues and the Assumption

(a) Faith

Faith is both the way in which we respond, by assent, to the things of God, and it’s the very gift He gives us to be able to do so. It is a supernatural virtue, which has its origin in Him, and He is the object of that faith, too. God helps us to believe in Him.

Our world is boringly sceptical. Things that might inspire wonder and awe are made base and low by over-analysis or simplification. Even the articles of our faith, passed down over the centuries, are sometimes interrogated as crimes. There must be no more interrogated Catholic teaching that those surrounding the Blessed Virgin Mary! And yet, all of the Church’s teaching on Our Lady is contained either explicitly or implicitly in the Sacred Scriptures, evident for the patient. And no teaching about Our Lady contradicts human reason: it might invite reason to expand, or acknowledge that not all things are as they seem. Faith purifies what we can work out, and expands what we can know by trusting in God and His Church.

Could you imagine the Redeemer of the World, risen and ascended, not feeling a true devotion and affection for His Blessed Mother. She’s not only his mother, but more: she is the Ark of the New Covenant, the First Tabernacle of God-made-man. She had experienced the conquering power of her Son’s death even before she was born: God freed her from all sin by prevention, just as God would redeem us, later, by cure. She is Immaculately Conceived, full of grace, the Mother of God — and then she just died and decomposed? This defies logic; it doesn’t sound like a loving way for God to treat the Unique Mother of the Divine Son. And so if it’s not logical or loving, how could it be true. And so Our Lady is assumed into heaven. How it happened, we speculate. That it happened is not to be doubted. That it should happen is obvious to us.

(b) Hope

In some way, that Our Lord brought His Mother to Himself, body and soul, at the end of her earthly life is not only obvious to us, but it’s a relief! If He hadn’t intervened so specially in the case of His Immaculate Mother, there’d be no chance for us. But He did, and so we have a chance, too.

What happened in the life of Our Lady was unique. It won’t be repeated in the same way for us. But the result for us will be glorious still. We’re conceived in sin—original sin—and the temporary separation of body and soul at death, and until the end of time, is a consequence of original sin for every person. After the final judgement, at the end of time, God will give us a glorious, resurrected body. By a miracle, our bodies will be raised up, reconstituted, purified and made spectacular, and taken to heaven. Our bodies and souls are important to God. Every single part of us is. And every single part of us awaits perfect redemption. Jesus wills to save every material part of us, and every spiritual part. Every thought, hair and inclination are all subject to His judgement and His love. And that’s a relief, too!

(c) Love

Why is every part of us so dear to God? Well, He is love, and He loves each of us, and every part of us. He loves us even while we’re still sinners, though God can never love sin. Before our death, we are called to live charitably, too. This doesn’t only mean “doing good things”, but it means living the life of heaven on earth even before we’re there. Charity is the atmosphere of heaven, where God is love. Every angel and saint are caught up in the life of God; it’s perfect love, forever. We’re caught up in it whenever we come to Holy Mass—earth is drawn up to the perfect love of God at the altar, where the Incarnate Son descends for us. This sharing in the life of heaven also happens when we live devoutly. This means that we live our lives prayerfully moved by the mysteries that our faith offers to us. Devotion to Mary, loving her, is an essential part of the life of heaven; it is an essential part of the life of Jesus. It must be an essential part of our lives, too.

But what about that promise of the Holy Rosary. Meditating on the mystery of the Assumption will increase our devotion to Our Lady. We do well to heed that advice of Our Holy Father Saint Philip: “Be devout to Mary”. He was, and all the saints were. And if we want to be a saint, we should be, too.

Some people worry that devotion to Mary troubles God. This should never trouble us. There is no competition in the devotion we show to Our Lady. To God alone belongs a particular worship. A consequence of it is our love for His Mother. That great martyr of Auschwitz, Saint Maximillian Kolbe (whose feast day is the vigil of the traditional date of the Assumption) consoles the scrupulous or the doubtful us with this teaching: “Never worry about being too devout to Mary,” he says, “because you can never love her more than her Son”. We’re devout to Mary because Jesus is, and we’re called to imitate Him. It honours Our Lord when we honour His Mother; the imitation of Mary is a marvellous way to both imitate Christ (in His virtues) and to imitate His love for His Holy Mother.

Faith, hope and charity: these three remain says Saint Paul to the Corinthians. They are special gifts from God that make His kingdom come, to be present on earth. It’s fitting that God wants to share them with us in great abundance on today’s feast, when Mary—destined to be the Queen of Heaven—is present with Him, body and soul, in heaven.

So, as we deepen our faith in this historical and spiritual mystery, our hope for a glorious future is enkindled by God’s love. Our body and soul is precious to God; even when we suffer in this life, we know that God is preparing a place for us in heaven. This is what His love looks like; this is how Our Lady loves. Let’s ask her for her prayers: she will take our needs to her Divine Son, and, because of His special love for His Assumed Mother, He will give many graces to us. Be devout to Mary, whose whole life—on earth and in heaven—radiates with love for God. Amen.

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