Pope's Homily on Solemnity of the Assumption

“In the Assumption we see that in God there is space for man”

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is the translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on the feast of the Assumption at the parish church of St. Thomas of Villanova in Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

On November 1, 1950, the Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed as dogma that the Virgin Mary “having ended the course of earthly life, was assumed into heavenly glory in soul and body.” This truth of faith was known by the Tradition, affirmed by the Fathers of the Church, and it was above all relevant to the veneration that the Church offered the Mother of Christ. Precisely this element of veneration was the moving force, so to speak, that determined the formulation of this dogma: the dogma appears as an act of praise and exaltation with respect to the Holy Virgin. This also emerges in the text itself of the apostolic constitution, where it is stated that the dogma is proclaimed “to honor the Son, for the glorification of the Mother and to the joy of the whole Church.” In this way what was already celebrated in the worship and devotion of the People of God as the highest and most customary glorification of Mary was expressed in dogmatic form: the act of the proclamation of her Assumption was presented almost as a liturgy of faith. 

And in the Gospel that we heard, Mary herself prophetically speaks some words that point in this direction: “From this day forth, all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). It is a prophecy for the whole history of the Church. The “Magnificat,” which we find in Luke’s Gospel, indicates that the praise of the Holy Virgin, the Mother of God, intimately united to Christ her son, regards the Church of all times and places. The evangelist’s report of these words presupposes that the glorification of Mary was already present at that time and that he saw it as a duty and task of the Christian community for all generations. Mary’s words tell us that it is a duty of the Church to recall Our Lady’s greatness in faith. This solemnity is, then, an invitation to praise God and to look to Our Lady’s greatness since we know who God is by gazing about the faces of those who are his.

But why is Mary glorified by the Assumption into heaven? St. Luke, as we have heard, sees the root of Mary’s exaltation and praise in Elizabeth’s words: “Blessed is she who believed” (Luke 1:45). And the “Magnificat,” this song to the living God who acts in history, is a hymn of faith and love that flows from the heart of the Virgin. She lived with exemplary fidelity and treasured in the depths of her heart God’s words to his people, the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, making them the content of her prayer: in the “Magnificat” God’s Word becomes Mary’s word, the light of her path, making her open even to receiving the Word of God made flesh in her womb. Today’s Gospel passage recalls this presence of God in history and in the very unfolding of events; in particular it is a reference to the second Book of Samuel, chapter 6 (6:1-5), in which David transports the Ark of the Holy Covenant. The parallel that the evangelist makes is clear: Mary awaiting the birth of the Son, Jesus, is the Holy Ark. Mary is God’s “visit” that brings joy. Zachariah, in his song of praise, will say this explicitly: “Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68). Zachariah’s house had experienced God’s visit with the birth of John the Baptist, but above all with the presence of Mary, who bears the Son of God in her womb.

But we now ask ourselves: what does Mary’s Assumption do for our journey, our life? The first answer is: in the Assumption we see that in God there is space for man, God himself is the mansion with many rooms of which Jesus speaks (cf. John 14:2); God is the house of man; in God there is the space of God. And Mary, uniting herself to God, and united with him, does not distance herself from us, she does not enter an unknown galaxy. Those who go to God come near to us because God is near to us, and Mary, united to God, participates in God’s presence, which is so close to us, to each one of us. There is a beautiful line that St. Gregory the Great says of St. Benedict but that we can also apply to Mary: St. Gregory the Great says that heart of St. Benedict became so large that the whole of creation was able to enter into this heart. This is even more true of Mary: Mary, completely united to God, has a heart that is so immense that the whole of creation can enter into this heart, and the ex-votos that are in every part of the world show this. Mary is near, she can hear, she can help, she is near to all of us. There is space for man in God, and God is near, and Mary, united to God, is very near, she has a heart that is great like the heart of God.

But there is another aspect: not only is there space for man in God; in man there is space for God. We also see this in Mary, the Holy Ark that bears the presence of God. In us there is space for God and this presence of God in us – so important for bringing light to the world’s sadness, its problems – is realized in faith: in faith we open the gates of our being so that God may enter into us, so that God can be the power that gives a light and a path to our being. There is space in us, let us open ourselves up as Mary did, saying: “Thy will be done, I am the Lord’s servant.” Opening up to God, we lose nothing. On the contrary: our life becomes rich and great.

And thus, faith and hope and love combine. Today there are many things said about a better world in the future: it would be our hope. Whether and when this better world will come, we do not know, I do not know. It is certain that a world that distances itself from God does not become better, but worse. Only the presence of God can guarantee a good world too. But let us leave  this aside. One thing, one hope is certain: God awaits us, he attends to us, we are not headed for a void, we are expected. God awaits us and passing to the other world we will find the Mother’s goodness, we will find our loved ones, we will find Eternal Love. God awaits us: this is our great joy and our great hope that is born precisely from this feast. Mary visits us, and she is the joy of our life and joy is hope.

So, what, then, should be said? We have spoken of a great heart, of the presence of God in the world, the space of God in us and the space of God for us, of hope, of being awaited: this is the symphony of this feast, the instruction that we are given by meditating on this solemnity. Mary is the dawn and splendor of the Church triumphant; she is the consolation and hope of the people still on pilgrimage, says today’s preface. Let us entrust ourselves to her maternal intercession, so that she obtain from the Lord the strengthening of our faith in eternal life; may she help us to live well and with hope the time offered to us by God. A Christian hope that is not only a nostalgia for heaven but a living and active desire of God here in the world, desire of God that makes us pilgrims who are unwearied, nourishing courage and the power of faith in us, which at the same time are the courage and power of love. Amen.

[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]
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