Feast of the Assumption: Humanity Upheld by God

Lectio Divina: Solemnity of the Assumption, Aug 15

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Rev 11:19 a; 12:1-6a .10 ab; Ps 45; 1 Cor 15:20-27a; Lk 1: 39-56

1) The goal of the pilgrimage of Heaven
        The gift with which God has given us His Son could not be corrupted. The living temple which first hosted the Body of Christ could not have gone to dust. The Assumption[1] of the Virgin clarifies in a beautiful way the sentence that is often repeated starting from St. Irenaeus (second century): «God became man so that man might become God.» What does it mean «to become God?» It means: to become a living being whose life has no limits, because it is free forever from sin and death.
        Before reflecting on the today’s Gospel’s image, that represents the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth whose son rejoices in the womb sensing the presence of the Son of God, I will ponder on the image (icon in Greek) of the Virgin Mother with the divine Child in her arms, whom she holds and protects. Mary, on behalf of all humanity, receives God in a tender and familiar way by touching with her face the face of the little Jesus. Jesus, at the end of his mother’s earthly life, does something similar. If we contemplate the icon of the Dormition (it is with this name that the Eastern Church celebrated the Assumption) of Mary, we see that in this case it is He who welcomes the Mother: God welcomes humanity.

Look here at the painting


        The Virgin Mother is dead. Christ, his Risen Son approaches her body covered in a black dress, black chrysalis, and takes in his arms the soul of His Mother, represented as a little girl who completes her birth in the Kingdom. In some icons Jesus brings close to his face the face of this woman-child. Let’s contemplate this assumption, in which the divine welcomes the human. And it’s a great feast. In this regard, Saint Anselm of Aosta states that the Redeemer wanted to ascend into heaven before his mother not only to prepare a throne worthy of her in his palace, but also to make triumphant and glorious her entrance into heaven, going himself to receive her with all the Angels and the Blessed of Heaven.

        The feast of the Assumption reminds us of our destiny of fullness of life in communion with God.  Mary assumed into heaven in body and soul is the mystery of our faith that shows us that we too, like Mary, are «destined» one day to rise in body and soul. Our whole being, our history, our relationships of love experienced through the heart and the actions of our body, will find their fullness and their fulfillment in the love of God! Nothing in our history will be lost, nothing of all those acts of faith, love, humility and justice made ​​with the soul and the body will have been in vain.

2) The Road.
        The feast of the Assumption of Mary speaks to us not only of the goal, but also of the journey for us pilgrims, following the example of our heavenly Mother, who was a pilgrim of heaven all the days of her life on earth.
        Today we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary, the entry into heaven of the one who believed, next to her Son, in anticipation of the goal that awaits every man. Mary goes before us in welcoming the Word that begets the Son in us, but she goes ahead of us also in the hope of the resurrection and in the assumption of all humanity in the life of God.
       To understand this mystery, today’s liturgy takes us at the beginning of the story in which the sky came to earth and became a little germ of life in the womb of a simple village woman, and offers us the Gospel passage which recounts the visit of the Mother of the Messiah to her cousin Elizabeth. The Mother of God after receiving the announcement of her motherhood by the angel, went in haste and with love to her elderly relative Elizabeth, to share her joy with someone who was going through a very similar situation. The reason for the feast, then, is the joy of being loved by a fruitful Love.
        Let us imagine the scene in the house of Zechariah. You could say that the protagonists are two women who meet, two pregnant women, one old, ten centuries of waiting old, – the Baptist represents more than 2000 years of waiting; he represents the whole humanity waiting for the Savior promised at the beginning of time- a woman who bears within herself the  ancient expectation of humanity. The other, a young girl who bears within herself the Expected by humanity, who carries in herself the good news, the new life. The old one carries the desire, the young one the Wanted One. One woman carries the hunger, the other the food. And the encounter happens.
        I think that it is fair to say that this meeting does not take place between Mary and Elizabeth, but between the two children who are in the womb of their mothers who rejoice. Then Mary burst forth in the Magnificat, her canticle of joy: all ages will call her blessed; in body and soul she will forever be with the Lord because she collaborated with him in the work of redemption.
        Mary is the Mother of God because she believed his word and accepted his proposal. Her joy is true for each of us who act like her, whom we celebrate today recovering the deep sense of gratitude to the Lord for His presence and for his visit to us.

3) The visitation of the Mother of Life.
        The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth allowed the visit of Jesus to John the Baptist.
        It was thus not a courtesy visit or a visit to give humanitarian aid to an elderly woman. It was a humble gesture of charity. She showed that God had really come down to visit and redeem the entire humanity.
        At the beginning of the story of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth there is a word to which it is not given sufficient importance: «in a hurry». «In those days (after the Annunciation) Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah» (Lk 1: 39). Why, instead of staying in meditation of the words of the Angel Gabriel and wait for the fulfillment of the announcement in her house, the Madonna «in haste» went to her old cousin who had been finally pregnant? Because she was driven by the charity of Christ. Her «haste» does not mean that she ran on the road to Ain Karim, a village near Jerusalem where Elizabeth lived. It means that there is not and there must be no delay between the conception of Jesus in Her and the presence of Jesus among men.
        We must do the same thing. If we have to give birth to Jesus in us and by us as eminently did Mary, we must let the Spirit flourish in us, leaving … without delay. Every grace is a mission. Every vocation is the mission to bring «in haste» the presence of Christ in the world.
        This vocation is lived by the consecrated Virgins in the world starting from their total commitment to Christ and their spousal communion with Him Are you resolved to accept solemn consecration as a bride of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I am.« Rite consecration of Virgins).  That implies that the fullness of virginity is given by the sense of motherhood. They are really virgins and wives when they begin to feel mothers, when their zeal to save souls and bring them to God, pushes them «in haste» to make available to the Church and to humanity all their resources and their existence for life. Then they really give life, serving the Life as in the prayer
of the Rite of Consecration of Virgins: “Let us pray to God the almighty Father through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ that he will pour out the Holy Spirit of his love on these servants of his whom he has chosen to be consecrated to his service.

Patristic Reading

St. John Damascene  (A.D. 676 – 754/787)

Sermon II on the Dormition of Mary

There is no one in existence who is able to praise worthily the holy death of God’s Mother, even if he should have a thousand tongues and a thousand mouths. Not if all the most eloquent tongues could be united would their praises be sufficient. She is greater than all praise. Since, however, God is pleased with the efforts of a loving zeal, and the Mother of God with what concerns the service of her Son, suffer me now to revert again to her praises. This is in obedience to your orders, most excellent pastors, so dear to God, and we call upon the Word made flesh of her to come to our assistance. He gives speech to every mouth which is opened for Him. He is her sole pleasure and adornment. We know that in celebrating her praises we pay off our debt, and that in so doing we are again debtors, so that the debt is ever beginning afresh. It is fitting that we should exalt her who is above all created things, governing them as Mother of the God who is their Creator, Lord, and Master. Bear with me you who hang upon the divine words, and receive my good will. Strengthen my desire, and be patient with the weakness of my words. It is as if a man were to bring a violet of royal purple out of season, or a fragrant rose with buds of different hues, or some rich fruit of autumn to a mighty potentate who is divinely appointed to rule over men. Every day he sits at a table laden with every conceivable dish in the perfumed courts of his palace. He does not look at the smallness of the offering, or at its novelty so much as he admires the good intention, and with reason. This he would reward with an abundance of GIFTS and favours. So we, in our winter of poverty, bring garlands to our Queen, and prepare a flower of oratory for the feast of praise. We break our mind’s stony desire with iron, pressing, as it were, the unripe grapes. And may you receive with more and more favour the words which fall upon your eager and listening ears. 

What shall we offer the Mother of the Word if not our words? Like rejoices in like and in what it loves. Thus, then, making a start and loosening the reins of my discourse, I may send it forth as a charger ready equipped for the race. But do Thou, O Word of God, be my helper and auxiliary, and speak wisdom to my unwisdom. By Thy word make my path clear, and direct my course according to Thy good pleasure, which is the end of all wisdom and discernment. 

Today the holy Virgin of Virgins is presented in the heavenly temple. Virginity in her was so strong as to be a consuming fire. It is forfeited in every case by child-birth. But she is ever a virgin, before the event, in the birth itself, and afterwards. To-day the sacred and living ark of the living God, who conceived her Creator Himself, takes up her abode in the temple of God, not made by hands. David, her forefather, rejoices. Angels and Archangels are in jubilation, Powers exult, Principalities and Dominations, Virtues and Thrones are in gladness: Cherubim and Seraphim magnify God. Not the least of their Praise is it to refer praise to the Mother of glory. To-day the holy dove, the pure and guileless soul, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, putting off the ark of her body, the life-giving receptacle of Our Lord, found rest to the soles of her feet, taking her flight to the spiritual world, and dwelling securely in the sinless country above. To-day the Eden of the new Adam receives the true paradise, in which sin is remitted and the tree of life growl, and our nakedness is covered. For we are no longer naked and uncovered, and unable to bear the splendour of the divine likeness. Strengthened with the abundant grace of the Spirit, we shall no longer betray our nakedness in the words: «I have Put off my garment, how shall I put it on?» The serpent, by whose deceitful promise we were likened to brute beasts, did not enter into this paradise. He, the only begotten Son of God, God himself, of the same substance as the Father, took His ] human nature of the pure Virgin. Being constituted a man, He made mortality immortal, and was clothed as a man. Putting aside corruption, He was indued with the incorruptibility of the Godhead.

Today the spotless Virgin, untouched by earthly affections, and all heavenly in her thoughts, was not dissolved in earth, but truly entering heaven, dwells in the heavenly tabernacles. Who would be wrong to call her heaven, unless indeed he truly said that she is greater than heaven in surpassing dignity? The Lord and Creator of heaven, the Architect of all things beneath the earth and above, of creation, visible and invisible, Who is not circumvented by place (if that which surrounds things is rightly termed place), created Himself, without human co-operation, an Infant in her. He made her a rich treasure-house of His all-pervading and alone uncircumscribed Godhead, subsisting entirely in her without passion, remaining entire in His universality and Himself uncircumscribed. To-day the life-giving treasury and abyss of charity (I know not how to trust my lips to speak of it) is hidden in immortal death. She meets it without fear, who conceived death’s destroyer, if indeed we may call her holy and vivifying departure by the name of death. For how could she, who brought life to all, be under the dominion of death ? But she obeys the law of her own Son, and inherits this chastisement as a daughter of the first Adam, since her Son, who is the life, did not refuse it. As the Mother of the living God, she goes through death to Him. For if God said: «Unless the first man put out his hand to take and taste of the tree of life, he shall live for ever,» how shall she, who received the Life Himself, without beginning or end, or finite vicissitudes, not live for ever. 

Of old the Lord God banished from the garden of Eden our first parents after their disobedience, when they had dulled the eye of their heart through their sin, and weakened their mind’s discernment, and had fallen into death-like apathy. But, now, shall not paradise receive her, who broke the bondage of all passion, sowed the seed of obedience to God and the Father, and was the beginning of life to the whole human race ? Will not heaven open its gates to her with rejoicing ? Yes, indeed. Eve listened to the serpent, adopted his suggestion, was caught by the lure of false and deceptive pleasure, and was condemned to pain and sorrow, and to bear children in suffering. With Adam she received the sentence of death, and was placed in the recesses of Limbo. How can death claim as its prey this truly blessed one, who listened to God’s word in humility, and was filled with the Spirit, conceiving the Father’s gift through the archangel, bearing without concupiscence or the co-operation of man the Person of the Divine Word, who fills all things, bringing Him forth, without the pains of childbirth, being wholly united to God? How could Limbo open its gates to her ? How could corruption touch the life-giving body ? These are things quite foreign to the soul and body of God’s Mother. Death trembled before her. In approaching her Son, death had learnt experience from His sufferings, and had grown wiser. The gloomy descent to hell was not for her, but a joyous, easy, and sweet passage to heaven. If, as Christ, the Life and the Truth says: «Wherever I am, there is also my minister,» how much more shall not His mother be with Him? She brought Him forth without pain, and her death, also, was painless. The death of sinners is terrible, for in it, sin, the cause of death, is sacrificed. What shall we say of her if not that she is the beginning of perpetual life. Precious indeed is the death of His saints to the Lord God of powers. More than precious is
the passing away of God’s Mother. Now let the heavens and the angels rejoice: let the earth and men be full of gladness. Let the air resound with song and canticle, and dark night put off its gloom, and emulate the brightness of day through the scintillating stars. The living city of the Lord God is assumed from God’s temple, the visible Sion, and kings bring forth His most precious gift, their mother, to the heavenly JERUSALEM, that is to say, the apostles constituted princes by Christ, over all the earth, accompany the ever virginal Mother of God. 

The complete text is at : http://www.fisheaters.com/customstimeafterpentecost6.html

[1] The dogma of the Assumption was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on November 1 of the Holy Year 1950, through the Apostolic Constitution Deus Munificentissimus. But what it described was already present in the faith of the church («sensus fidelium»), and in particular in the popular one, since the 4th century AD when a Church Father, Epiphanius of Salamis, tried to answer the question about the ultimate fate of Mary. The question was if Mary, being completely free from sin – and one of the effects of original sin is death – had to succumb to the latter as all human beings. So in the 6th century, the Bishop of Livias (near Jericho) said in a sermon: «It was fitting that the body that had carried and kept the Son of God, after being on the Earth, would have welcomed gloriously in heaven together with the soul. «
Meanwhile, the Church began to celebrate the Marian feasts. The first one was indeed the one that is at the origin of the Feast of the Assumption. On August 15, 453 in Jerusalem a church called with the evocative term of «Dormition» because Mary at the end of her earthly journey was not really dead, but asleep, was dedicated to the death of Mary. In the Eastern tradition the death of Mary is called «dormitio» (= fall asleep) or even «transitus» (= pass).
Later, in the 7th century Modestus, Bishop Ordinary of Jerusalem, announced in his homily that «Mary was taken by the Lord of Lords into Glory,» and praised the passing of the glorious Mother of God, «taken from the tomb and called to Himself by her Son in a way known only to Him.»

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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