By Jim Murray
A reflection on the solemn Feast of the Assumption of Blessed
Virgin Mary into Heaven
Thursday, August 15, 2019
Some of you have been wondering….. So why is this a Solemn Feast day, anyway, and why is it a Holy Day of Obligation?
Briefly, a Holy Day of obligation simply means that as Roman Catholics we are bound by canon law to attend Mass. Sunday is always considered a holy day of obligation. Since it follows the third commandment, “keep holy the Sabbath.” And as stated in the Book of Canon Law (1246 §1), “Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation.” Various special feast days within the liturgical calendar are selected by the Church to be solemn feast days. Some feast days, if they fall on a Saturday or Monday may be transferred to Sunday by the authority of the Conference of Bishops.
Let’s explore a little deeper this solemn feast day. The Entrance Antiphon (a bible quote) for the day gives us a glimpse of the importance of this feast day. The Book of Revelations (12:1) tells us: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” A special time is set aside as a “matter of faith,” to celebrate this great event in the life of the Church.
The Scriptures for this feast day reveal some interesting elements. The reading from Revelations (11: 19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab) states that a “woman” clothed with the sun, is accompanied by moon and stars, presents to us an image that is very stunning and dramatic. But who is this woman? She is given no name, simple referred to as “a woman,” who gives birth to a child. Revelations and other writings are filled with a variety of interpretations of who this woman could be. In John’s gospel, the mother of Jesus is never identified as “Mary,” but is twice referred to simply as “woman” both times by Jesus, first at the wedding at Cana and then from the cross. This designation as “woman” in Revelations and her giving birth to a male child who is destined to rule all the nations readily identifies this unnamed woman as the mother of Jesus.
The Gospel of Luke (1: 39-56) for today’s feast ends with Mary giving freely her “total all” in the Magnificat. Mary’s canticle is traditionally called the Magnificat because of this first word in the Latin translation.
At this point in the Gospel we hear Mary identifying herself as the Lord’s lowly servant (literally a “slave woman”). Which brings us to Elizabeth’s question, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” which recalls the words of King David when the ark of the covenant was being brought back to Jerusalem “how can the ark of the Lord come to me?” The ark is a symbol of the presence of God. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth sanctifies her home with the presence of the Lord. Various accounts in Scripture affirm when she gave her absolute yes to the angel’s message at the Annunciation. Towards the end of the gospel reading, she again speaks of herself as the Lord’s lowly servant on whom God has shown great favor. She relies entirely on God, developing one of the richest and loveliest portraits of the God of blessing, kindness and mercy.
It was on November 1, 1950 (All Saints Day, a holy day of Obligation), that Pope Pius XII solemnly defined Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven as a dogma (matter) of faith in the following words “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 into heavenly glory.” (M.D.) Pope Pius XII left open the question of whether or not Mary actually experienced death before being taken up into glory, “…was assumed…” She was redeemed by her Son, was “taken up” into heaven by divine power, and did not “ascend” as Jesus did through his own power. The mystery of her assumption is quite distinct from that of his Ascension “....body and soul…” meaning that Mary has been glorified in her total personhood. Current theology concerning her death in the Lord, states that she was probably buried near the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, and, in the likeness of her Son’s resurrection, Mary’s body did not decompose after her death and burial, but she was gloriously assumed intact.
“Because she belonged to Christ, Mary Our Queen has been raised on high. She is a great sign for all who believe in her son. In the early Church, this feast was known as the Dormition or Falling Asleep of Mary in the Lord.” (See Fr. Merold’s article in today’s bulletin.)
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; is a HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATION. Mass will be celebrated here at Saint Patrick’s at 6:30 AM, 8:30 AM and 7:00 PM. Please join us!
- Jim Murray