August 15, 2012 - Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Vigil Mass

1 Chronicles 15.3-4, 15-16; 16.1-2
Psalm 132.6-7, 9-10, 13-14 Resp. 8
1 Corinthians 15.54b-57
Luke 11.27-28

The Ark of the Covenant was the central symbol of the Jewish religion, not because of what it was, but because of what it contained. Within the Ark of the Covenant were the tablets of the Law and a jar of manna and the staff of Aaron the priest. None of these items were actually God, but they represented the relationship between God and Israel. Over the centuries, the contents of the Ark were lost, but the Ark itself was still revered because of what it had once held.

The Ark of the New Covenant is Mary, the Mother of God. As the Jews revered the Ark of the Covenant without ever confusing the Ark with God himself, so we Christians revere Mary without ever confusing her with God. Within her body was Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus took his human nature, his DNA, his cells, from Mary. She nourished him for 9 months as a mother nourishes her unborn child. Even after she had given birth, she could rightly be revered for what her body once held.

But that would be the wrong reason to honor Mary! At least, that is what Jesus tells us. If we honored Mary merely because she carried Jesus in her womb, we would be missing more than half the point. The Ark of the Covenant was made of wood. What did the trees do to deserve being made into the Ark? Nothing; they are trees. No one asked their permission, they merely looked all over for the very best wood. Similarly, Mary was chosen because she was the very best human being, but Mary is a human being, so God would not have used her without her permission.

This is why, when a woman shouts out today from the crowd, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed”, Jesus corrects her: “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” He is saying that Mary is blessed to be the Mother of God, but not merely because part of her body became the body of God, nor even because of the intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary, who fed him at her breast. Mary is blessed because she heard the word of God, through the angel Gabriel: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God; behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus”, and she responded, ““Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Who, more than Mary, heard the word of God and did it? No one. She is the Mother of Jesus, but she is also his first disciple.

How fitting it is then that, as the first disciple of Jesus Christ, she was the first human person to experience the Resurrection in her own body. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. Mary was raised before us as a symbol of the whole Church. Jesus, by rising from the dead, destroyed the power of death, so that we too can rise in our earthly bodies, and Mary is the first fruits of that Resurrection. Where she has gone before us, we hope to follow.

Mary found the way to heaven, and it began with obedience. If we are hoping to follow her, we must begin in the same way. However, it will be easier for us because we have an advantage that she lacked: we have a mother in heaven whose only desire is to lead us to her first-born son: Jesus Christ, who is the only way to the Father.