Solemnity of the Assumption!
Today’s the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Roman Catholics, and the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos for the various flavors of Eastern Orthodox. Pretty much the same thing, though. Mary, the new Eve, joins her Son, the new Adam, in Heaven. Like Him, she must “fall asleep”, but also like Him, she lives and is taken body and soul into Heaven, leaving behind an empty tomb. All this is remembered according to the ancient traditions of the Church. But it’s not so surprising, really, considering that folks like Elijah and Enoch also got taken up into Heaven. (Btw, some believe that, like them, Mary didn’t even have to die. Official Catholic teaching doesn’t say either way — just that she was taken up into Heaven.)
In this, Mary represents not just herself, but the Church and all humanity. God uses Mary to show us what the end of life might have been for all of us, if Adam had not sinned — merely a step from one world into the next. But He also shows us that death is still not anything a Christian need really fear, for Jesus wouldn’t have sent his old mother into anything too dire.
The readings for the Vigil Mass on Saturday night are pretty interesting, by the way. The first reading is all about the Ark of the Covenant and the people, and the psalm is about the Ark and God: “Lord, go up to the place of your rest, you and the ark of your holiness.” This may seem weird, but why was the Ark holy? Because it contained the Commandments — the Word of God. And what did Mary contain for nine months but the Word? The first Ark also contained manna from the desert; Jesus is obviously our food provided by God. Finally, the first Ark contained Aaron’s budded staff — and if you can’t make the proper Flower of Jesse and virga/virgo poetic comparisons here…. (I’m sure you could also say much more meaningful things about how this compares to Jesus’ authority to speak.) After showing us Mary as daughter of Israel, we see her again in the Gospel as Christ’s first follower and Mother of the Church. Very cool.
But let’s face it: it’s the Sunday readings that we all like the best. We get the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” We get the psalm where “The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.” We get the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” and the Magnificat.
This weekend, the Pope visited Lourdes. In Boston’s North End, they have a great Fisherman’s Feast celebrating the Madonna del Soccorso (Our Lady, Help of Christians). It’s a happy thing, this Ladymass. We celebrate not only Mary and God’s favor to her, but the eternal life we may look forward to ourselves.