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The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Liturgy Sense of the Readings at Catholic Mass
The Liturgy Sense of the Readings at Catholic Mass
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s first reading for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary opens with a vision from John from Revelation 11:19, saying, “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” What a beautiful reminder of our Catholic tradition that the Mother of God, the Theotokos, has been given the title ‘Ark of the Covenant’ since the Church’s earliest centuries. For, as the Old Covenant Ark of God contained the tablets of God’s law, the manna (i.e., the bread from Heaven), and Aaron’s priestly rod that budded, so too did the Virgin Mary, for nine months, carry within her womb He who is the fulfillment of all those three things, which were but a mere foreshadowing of His coming. This is why the title Mary, Ark of the Covenant, had been ascribed to her by Church fathers such as Saint Gregory the Wonderworker and Saint Athanasius in the third and fourth centuries, respectively.

Then what John sees next in his vision, captured in 12:1, would go on to inspire 2,000 years of Catholic iconography of the Blessed Virgin Mother: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” John’s vision also seems to be a fulfillment of Joseph’s dream recorded in Genesis 37:9; “Behold, I have dreamed another dream; and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” In that sense, we can recognize that the woman in John’s vision not only represents the Virgin Mary but also represents Israel – the daughter of Zion made perfect and fitting before the eyes of the Lord.

As John’s vision continues, he sees that the daughter of Zion is with child and is experiencing the birth pangs that belong to the curse given to all women due to Eve’s disobedience. It has been well-reasoned that the Blessed Mother Mary did not experience such birth pangs due to her Immaculate Conception, but rather, these are the pains and sufferings that the Daughter of Zion necessarily endured before the coming of her Messiah.

John then sees a frightening image. A huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, representing power, and on its head were seven diadems, representing kingly rule. The color red indicates the violent nature of this beast, and the numbers seven and ten represent the Jewish concept of completion. Psalm 74:14 and Isaiah 27:1 also make reference to a serpent such as this that God defeated at the dawn of creation and crushed on the day of judgment, respectively. John saw this red dragon hurl a third of the stars down from the sky with a swoop of its tail, which may represent either the fallen angels or the faithful whom the beast will kill. The dragon preying on the woman so that it might devour her child after she gives birth indicates that the birth of her son must have been announced. Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn King immediately comes to mind here. Indeed, this hostility between the woman and the serpent harkens us back to Genesis again, where it was written of the serpent’s curse, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (3:15).

The next verse, “Her child was caught up to God and his throne,” indicates that this woman’s child was born a king on earth and in Heaven. It is unmistakably clear to us now that John saw the Virgin Mother in his vision, who he then saw flee “into the desert where she had a place prepared by God.” That God lavished upon the Mother of His Son a protected space and special affection and graces for her entire life on earth most assuredly point to the dogma of the Assumption; that is the dignity, privilege, and glory, due to her whose intimate union with her Son “surpassed the sanctity of all men and of the angels” (Munificentissimus Deus, 18).

The first reading for today’s Solemnity then jumps to Revelation 12:10, where John says he “heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed One.” As with other parts of John’s vision, what he heard here was People of God throughout the centuries speaking in the one voice of the liturgy. In this instance, he heard us at the Holy Mass exclaiming the final doxology of the Lord’s Prayer, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.”

The second reading today from Corinthians 15:20-27 then reverberates that same acclamation of the dynamic reign of God that came to heal the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin. This reign has the authority and the power to bring all created things in subjection to the glory of its Creator. For that which was dead was brought to life through the resurrection of Christ “then comes the end, when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.”

The Gospel Reading for the Solemnity of the Assumption comes from Luke 1:39-56, where we read about the three-month-long visitation of Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth and her singing the Magnificat. Luke offers here a perfect synthesis of the prior two readings. In his narrative on the visitation, Luke draws from the sixth chapter of Samuel and the sixteenth chapter of 1 Chronicles to perfectly depict Mary as the Ark of the Covenant. As Mary set out and traveled to the hill country, so too did “David and all the people who were with him set out for Baala of Judah to bring up from there the Ark of God” (Samuel 6:2). As Elizabeth said, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” so too did David fear “the Lord that day and say, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me” (Samuel 6:9). As the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting, so too did David dance with joy when the Israelites were bringing up the Ark of the Lord into Jerusalem (Cf. Samuel  6:14). As Mary sung a song proclaiming the greatness of God for Him having chosen her, so too did David sing a song of thanksgiving when the Ark was placed in a tent (Cf. 1 Chronicles 16:8-36). As the Ark of the Covenant remained in the house of Obededom the Gittite for three months (Cf. Samuel 6:11), so too did Mary remain in the home of Elizabeth for three months.

Together, these readings at the Holy Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother Mary remind us how Mary’s life is the example, par excellence, of who the liturgy prepares us to be in the world.  

At the moment we approach the Priest, and he announces, “Corpus Christi/Body of Christ,” and we say, “Amen,” we encounter Mary at the Annunciation and begin walking in her footsteps. For, our “Amen” is most wonderfully an imitation of her fiat. “This is the Body of Christ,” the Priest says; then, “Amen,” we say, as our heart cries out like Mary’s ‘Let it be to me according to your Word, Lord’; that is, may all the promises of the Holy Eucharist come to be in, with, and through me.

The elevation of the consecrated host itself above the altar and before our face is an image of Gabriel’s promise to Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). This is why is right and fitting that every knee should bow at both of these moments, just as all those who ever shared in Abraham’s faith always fell to the ground at the coming of the Presence of God.

Just as God took the dead womb of Elizabeth and filled it with life, so too is the Holy Eucharist the only thing on earth where a thing that is truly dead (i.e., unleavened bread and pressed grapes) becomes Someone who is truly alive (i.e., the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ Jesus). In this way, the same miracle that God worked in Elizabeth, the Holy Eucharist, also works in us, and just as God came to dwell in the Virgin Mary, making her a type of Ark of the Covenant, so too does He comes to dwell in us, and by the Holy Eucharist makes us also a type of Ark of Covenant, and just as the sound of Mary’s greeting caused the life living within Elizabeth to leap, so too should the world respond likewise to the Presence of Christ dwelling in us.

Mary is the example, par excellence, of how we ought to live our life as a Eucharistic People, and her Assumption into Heaven is the great hope that the liturgy points us to and that the Holy Eucharist promises us. That is, by virtue of Mary being created to be the Ark of the Covenant and being kept free of sin, so too does the liturgy prepare us to become what Mary was so that we might also joyfully partake of the fruit of being loved into Heaven by Christ our King at the end of our days.

This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.

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