Mary has been raised to the fullness of salvation
(Readings: Apocalypse 11:19, 12:1-6, 10; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56)
Introduction to Mass
Today is one of the feasts during the Church Year which highlights the unique role played by Mary, Jesusí mother, in the history of salvation. Our Lady was completely disposed to doing Godís will and responded to her God-given vocation without reservation. The doctrine of the Assumption expresses a very ancient Christian belief about Maryís unique destiny as the woman who agreed to become the mother of the Saviour.
To prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteriesÖ
It's possible that the image of Mary's Assumption into heaven that most of us have in our heads is drawn from certain pictures which are the products of popular devotion - pictures of Mary rising up through the clouds surrounded by flocks of angels.
And it's possible that these are images which aren't all that helpful, in the sense that they give too literal an impression of what we mean when we talk about our belief in the Assumption of Our Lady. God isn't literally above the earth - that's only a figurative way of speaking. So Mary didn't physically fly upwards to join him. That's only a figurative way of seeing Maryís translation into Godís eternal presence.
The actual belief or the doctrine associated with today's feast is that Our Lady, at the end of her life, was taken into God's company, body and soul. In our case, when we die, there's going to be a gap between our entering God's presence and the final resurrection of our bodies that we profess in the Creed.
With Our Lady there was no gap. She's already in that state of glory, as we call it, which Christ himself is, and which we hopefully will be at the end of time.
It's perfectly true that there's no record of this event in the Bible, and that's decisive for many of the Protestant churches, whose members don't agree with this doctrine about Mary. But the belief does go back to the very early years of the Church's existence, and for us, the presence of a belief among the Christian community from that very early stage is enough to make it part of the tradition of faith.
But again, it would be a mistake for us to be too literalistic about it. Catholics don't interpret Scripture in a fundamentalist way, and we don't interpret our Tradition literally, either.
As with the Bible, the use of figurative language isn't intended to deceive or mislead people. Itís intended to point to a deeper truth about God, and God's plan, which ordinary language can't communicate very well.
And in that sense, there are two things maybe that this ancient belief in Mary's Assumption tells us about God and God's plan of salvation.
One is about the very special role that Mary had. The gospel passage today commemorates the fact that Mary was asked to be the mother of the Messiah, and said 'yes'. She goes to see Elizabeth her cousin to share her news and her happiness, and Elizabeth herself, it turns out, is also somebody who has been invited by God to play a very special role.
In fact, we all have a place in the history of salvation. Most of us have a small and relatively unimportant role. Others have a more significant part to play, like Elizabeth, perhaps.
But Mary's role wasn't just significant, it was unique - bringing the saviour to birth, being the mother of the Messiah who was both the Son of Man and God's Son. It's in this sense that Mary came to be known as the Mother of the Church - the mother of the whole community of Christís brothers and sisters.
The second thing about the Assumption is what it teaches us about ourselves, because Mary - as an ordinary human being - represents all of us. Mary represents every human being who stands before God and says 'yes' to his summons.
Because of her unique role, because of her response, Mary has already reached the final stage of friendship or closeness with God that hopefully lies in store for all of us, in the future.
She hasn't been given anything that God doesn't intend for every man and woman.
The second reading today emphasises this fact: we are all intended for glory and life with God. That's why that passage was chosen for the second reading for today's feast.
Lastly, before finishing off, maybe I could say something very quickly about the first reading we've got for todayís feast, because like a lot of the passages of the Book of Revelation, this one is full of strange images which are very unlike the writings in the other books of the New Testament and which are difficult to make sense of, or understand properly.
The person who wrote the Book of Revelation was St. John, the author of the fourth gospel, and he was supposedly an old man when he wrote it, living alone on the island of Patmos, the last surviving apostle, spending his final years meditating on Christ's life and work.
The images in these particular lines, which we just listened to, actually refer to the Church. The woman in the passage symbolises the Church community, struggling against God's Old Adversary.
If we've come to apply these images to Our Lady, it's because of this role she has as the mother of the Church and the representative of all believers in Christ, who place their faith in him and follow him. She's the symbol of all those who say yes to God, and who therefore resist sinful attitudes or attitudes opposed to what God stands for. It was an easy matter to apply to Mary the language St. John used to describe the Church.
Those are the main lessons I would take from today's feast.
One is that it celebrates the unique role that Jesus' mother had in the history of God's dealings with the human race. But the second thing is that it points up her role as an example or representative of everyone who says 'yes' to God's call. It was because Mary's response was so unambiguous - which ours isn't, after all - that Mary has already been led into the fullness of life with God ahead of the rest of us.