A reflection on the readings for Sunday, August 15, 2021 — the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. When we look at Mary, we see both the image in which God created human persons and human destiny. If we model our lives on Mary, then we will share in her destiny. Let us seek pardon for our sins, so that our lives may be pure and holy like that of Mary.
Today’s feast is very interesting. First of all, while the Assumption of Mary is an ancient tradition and has a long history in the Church, this dogma was defined relatively recently—by Pope Pius XII in November 1950, only a little over 70 years ago. Second, this is a non-biblical feast in the sense that there is no biblical evidence to support the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven. The first reading from Revelation that is used for this feast, for example, was not originally written about Mary. The woman rescued from the dragon is the Church. This passage is about the liberation and redemption of a persecuted Church. Only in retrospect does the Church apply this scripture passage to Mary. Third, like so many other Marian feasts, the Feast of the Assumption reflects a historical or doctrinal development. Whether it is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, or the feast of the Assumption, each of these feasts was established as the Church discerned that Mary’s life, her faith, and what God accomplished in, through, and for her, needed to be integral to the life of the Church. Thus, today we celebrate the feast of the Assumption.
Mary – Model for Humanity
If we want to understand what God really intended when God made the first man and woman, then all we have to do is look at Mary. In Mary, we see the image in which God created the human race. When the first man and woman sinned, God promised that it would be through a woman that God will crush the head of the ancient serpent. In Mary, we see the obedience, the cooperation, the goodness, the holiness in which the first man and woman should have lived.
Mary – the Human Destiny
When we see in Mary the image in which God created the human race, we also see how far humanity has diverged from that original image. Humanity’s disobedience, rebellion, and capacity for evil and self-destruction tell us that human beings can use their God-given freedom and derail God’s plan and vision for humanity. But the assumption of Mary tells us that God has not given up on humanity. God’s original vision for the human race to live in the garden of Eden is still open to humanity. If we can model our lives on Mary, then Mary’s destiny is ours as well. One day we will be where Mary is.
Modern Day Implications of the Feast of the Assumption
Today’s first reading begins with a reference to the “Ark of the Covenant” (Rev 11:19). The original Ark was made of wood and it contained the two tablets and pieces of manna. The original Ark has been lost. To this day, it has not been found. In the Catholic tradition, Mary is called the New Ark of the New Covenant. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, and that “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). Mary carried within her the Savior of the world – Jesus, who was the New Covenant of God. We honor Mary because she is the New Ark of the New Covenant.
Today, as we honor Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, for a moment we pause to think of ourselves as the ark of the New Covenant. At every Eucharist, we receive the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ that we receive is the same body that was in Mary’s womb. At every Eucharist we commune with Jesus, the Son of God – body, soul, and divinity. The implication of receiving the Body of Christ is simple – that we live in the same way that Mary lived – in holiness, in purity of heart, in obedience to the Lord, and discerning and accomplishing God’s will.
Let us reflect a little more deeply about the Ark. When Mary delivered Jesus, and he walked the face of the earth, in one sense, the whole earth is now the Ark of the New Covenant. In other words, the earth is holy ground. The earth held the same Body that was in Mary’s womb. These days, the earth, God’s creation, the ground on which Jesus walked, is being exploited and destroyed beyond repair. In his encyclical Laudato Si’ Pope Francis says, “The earth now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (LS, 2). To honor Mary is to honor the earth into which she entrusted her Son. To dishonor the earth is the dishonor Mary, who carried Christ in her womb and by entrusting him to the world, sanctified the earth and humanity.
Finally, the Assumption of Mary shows us the dignity of every man and woman. God considered a human person worthy enough to carry the Son of God. This has elevated the dignity of the human race. To honor Mary is to honor every man and woman made in the image and likeness of God. These men and women don’t live far away in some foreign land. They live in our own homes – husband and wife, parents and children, the elderly, the ill, the weak, and the struggling. We cannot disrespect them, abuse them, ill-treat them, and then also come to church and honor Mary. The two don’t go together. When we respect, uphold, and cherish the dignity of every human person, we honor Mary and we honor God who created every human person.
When we receive the Eucharist, once more we are reminded of the image in which God has created us. We are the temples of God – arks of the new covenant. Let us imitate Mary, so that we may share in her destiny – the destiny that God has promised us. Amen.
Image: The iconic monstrance, “Our Lady of the Sign – Ark of Mercy,” St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Chicago.