Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: 15 August
Bishop Paolo Magnani
Bishop emeritus of Treviso, Italy
So what does 'Heaven' really mean?
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the most joyful of our liturgical Solemnities. The Church on earth and the Church in Heaven join in the infinite glory of God, who welcomes and crowns his Mother. Today is the day of Mary's birth in Heaven which celebrates the triumph of her soul and her body.
Let us look at her entire biography.
The Assumption is the theme of her constant ascension. Full of grace from the very moment of her conception on this earth, Mary Immaculate never ceased to grow in grace before God.
The Annunciation, Christmas, Calvary, the Passover of the Resurrection and Pentecost are the spiritual landmarks of her existence. In each one, her motherly and virginal love was enriched, aspiring to a summit that no other creature will ever be able to attain.
The mystery of Our Lady of the Assumption becomes evident if it is set within the connections that unite the Marian prerogatives to one another: she was taken up into Heaven because she was Immaculate; she was taken up into Heaven and was Immaculate because of her divine motherhood.
After the holy humanity of Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father in the sanctuary of divinity, there was nothing in the world more perfect than this motherly soul, shining with purity, beauty, tenderness and grace, reflected in her body.
Fully open to the splendours of the Word, her Son, Mary finally achieves the perfection of all the requirements of her sublime vocation.
In the First Reading of the Liturgy for this feast, we hear a passage from the Book of Revelation (11:19; 12:1-6) in which the Church has gathered various symbols, destined to express the theological and salvific meaning of the figure of Mary and her glorification.
It all takes place in a heavenly sphere: "And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars".
A little later, it speaks of other signs in the heavens: a great red dragon and the stars of heaven swept down to earth; then, lastly, we hear "a loud voice in heaven".
Heaven is the setting of an event rich in symbols. In Pius XIl's Bull declaring the Dogma which defines the Assumption to be a truth of faith [Munificentissimus Deus], we read: "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" (n. 44). In the face of this Dogma it might be useful to ask oneself what the word "Heaven" means.
Meaning of 'Heaven'
"Heaven" is a word that recurs in the revelation of the Old and New Testaments. It has a long popular tradition which indicates the solid vault that separates the world on high from the world below.
This is what the Israelites thought, and likewise, what many instinctively think today.
The term "Heaven" was used by revelation and applied to what lies beyond the visible sky, imagining that there is an invisible one where God's throne stands, as in a palace. Hence, its metaphorical sense: indeed, the One who dwells in the heavens cannot be pinpointed in any one place, for not even the heavens could contain him. Therefore, Heaven as a place is part of a symbolic language which communicates to us the reality of the faith.
And thus, we speak of Heaven as the home of angels, the stage of God's manifestation, the dwelling place of the glorious Christ, the dwelling place of Mary Most Holy, Our Lady of the Assumption. Consequently, it is a transcendent space, it is the presence of God and his glory, it is God's Name, it is God himself.
To go to Heaven is to go to God and to live with God. According to the Gospel, we must lay up for ourselves a treasure in Heaven!
The Reading from the Book of Revelation for this feast opens with the grandiose scene in which the woman clothed with the sun comes to take up her residence. But who is this woman? What does she represent?
A preliminary answer leads us to the Old Testament, where the "People of God" is compared to a woman and Jerusalem is considered as a woman, Yahweh's Bride, radiant with God's light (cf. Is 60) and destined to form a holy and numerous people.
This woman of the Book of Revelation gives birth to a son, but in her painful experience of motherhood she must first engage in a battle of demonic origin against evil, against the enemy of God.
The woman will emerge victorious from this conflict. The newborn child is the Messiah, "one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" (Rv 12:5). Her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the celestial woman, on the other hand, fled to the desert where God cared for her.
This Reading is complex and rich in evocative resonance; it reminds us of the wait for the Messiah, the sufferings and triumph of the messianic experience that unite Mother and Son. The woman of the Book of Revelation is the Sorrowful Mother, but also the victorious Queen, a title missing from the Litany of Loreto.
Mary comes first
When we start with this Woman-Mother of the People of God and of the Son-Messiah, we come to the Church, the new People of God with Mary.
Ever in the light of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us listen to St. Paul (Mass of the Day: I Cor 15:20-27), who speaks to us of the Resurrection of Christ and of our resurrection in him. We have reached the crowning event of the history of salvation, of the victory of the Man over sin, Satan and death: "Christ is risen from the dead".
This is the sign of the Christian faith. With Baptism, Christians are incorporated into Christ and come to share in his Risen Life. Christ is the first fruits of all the dead who are destined to be raised. In this chain of risen people whom Christ brings with him to Heaven, Mary comes first, with Christ and for Christ.
If we want our Marian devotion to conform with God's will, it must be as Christocentric as the entire spiritual biography of the Mother of Christ.
The Gospel for the Mass of the Assumption is offered to us by St. Luke (1:39-56), who has passed on what is called The Infancy Gospel.
The account of Mary's visit to St. Elizabeth introduces us to the important Marian prayer of the Magnificat, the personalized comment of the One who henceforth plays the lead role in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. The Magnificat is a great canticle in which converge the spiritual sentiments of the poor, the humble, those who wait with trust for salvation from God.
On Mary's lips these sentiments acquire fresh vigour, inexhaustible and unfathomable depth and a unique motivation. Having reached the fullness of the perfection that shines on her body and already illumined by the beatific vision, she, the undeserving little creature, sings the Magníficat before the Almighty and Merciful God.
Mary never forgets she is the handmaid of the Lord, just as she does not forget the gratuitous goodness of the love of God, who has turned his gaze upon her almost as a compendium of all his mercy poured out upon humanity.
For this reason, the daily prayer of the Magnificat closes the Christian day.
Mary taken up into Heaven, in her attitude of contemplation before the Most Holy Trinity, carries out the ministry of intercession on our behalf, ever in communion with Jesus Christ, the one Mediator and heavenly Priest.
And we, his children and his faithful, although we are sinners, commend ourselves full of trust to this Mother of ours, steeped in beatifying tenderness.
Let us ask her to purify us: to free us from every evil, starting with sin in its various forms. We are pilgrims on this earth, here below, where it is our vocation to journey on towards Heaven, now bound for experiencing God in the beauty of the creatures.
On the Solemnity of the Assumption, the Blessed Virgin Mary strengthens us through faith in the future resurrection; she attracts us with the sweetness of her love, so that one day we too may contemplate Jesus, the blessed fruit of her love.
We ask this of you: O clement, O merciful, O sweet Virgin Mary!
Weekly Edition in English
8/15 August 2007, page 11
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