The Solemnity of the Assumption is a celebration in which we profess that Mary was assumed body and soul to heaven. This was a belief going back to the early church but was not declared an infallible doctrine until 1950 by Pope Pius XII. The key sentence from the decree is, “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” [Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus 44] In the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, of the Second Vatican Council states, “the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things (n. 59).”
The Gospel for this Solemnity is the account of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. The description of the two meeting beautifully illustrates how the holy presence of Mary was experienced by her saintly cousin. Elizabeth’s greeting is one that was not forgotten and is immortalized in the Hail Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth goes on to refer to Mary as the mother of her Lord and describes the interaction between the babies in each of their wombs. The child in her womb, who would be known as John the Baptist, leaped for joy at the presence of Jesus in the womb of Mary.
Mary’s response is also one that was not forgotten and is the prayer we know as the Magnificat. Mary proclaims the greatness of the Lord and all that he has done for her. The prayer then recounts the numerous ways that the Lord was present to the Israelites throughout history and is an act of faith on her part the God will continue to turn the world around and upside down for the sake of his people.
A question that often comes up is the role of Mary in the Church insinuating that we don’t need Mary because we have Jesus. Yes, we have Jesus, but it is Mary his Mother who prays for us and leads us to Jesus. When I take students on Mission trips and we are on a guided tour it is common for our tour guide and other guides to begin by showing us their fancy colored umbrella, or walking stick with colored ribbons on it, and pointing out that if we get separated to look for the umbrella that she will hold high so we can find her. The raised umbrella or walking stick leads us back to the guide. Mary is like the umbrella that Jesus holds up for us to see that leads us back to him. If we keep our eyes on Mary and have devotion to her we will always be with the Lord.
May we be ever faithful to Jesus like Mary is to her son and to us, and may our souls magnify the greatness of the Lord. May we be always mindful of the great things God has done to us and how he has rescued us in the past and continues to be with us. Like Mary may we believe that sometimes God turns our worlds upside down in such a way that the impossible happens.
May we pray with deep devotion the prayer Elizabeth gave us; “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. . .”
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Artwork: The Assumption of Mary, Titian (1490-1576).