Living in hope of glory: Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Living in hope of glory: Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary

This feast is universally celebrated on this day – August 15 – in both the Eastern and Western Church. It is also known as the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Virgin Mary. It has been the subject of Christian art over the centuries. Icons from the Eastern tradition depict the Virgin Mary, surrounded by the apostles, asleep in death. Western art often depicts a glorious assumption of the Virgin Mary being ushered into heavenly glory.

Christian texts from very early times give witness to faith of the Church. Even though the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was defined as a dogma only some 60 years ago, it was universally believed for the two millennia of Christianity. On November 1, 1950, the Feast of All Saints, Pope Pius XII declared as a dogma revealed by God that "Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven."

There is no explicit reference to the Assumption in Sacred Scripture and we have no detail concerning Our Lady's death from the Scriptures. Both Jerusalem and Ephesus claim to be the place where she died. (By tradition, Mary lived at Ephesus after the death of Jesus.) It is believed that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that after her burial, her tomb, when opened, was found empty. Therefore, they concluded that her body had been taken up (assumed) into heaven.

In the sixth century Saint Gregory of Tours, one of the first of the Fathers of the Church to comment on the Assumption, explained that having been preserved from original sin, it is entirely appropriate that she would be assumed into heaven. Mary's sinless body – which bore the Son the God -  should not have to decay in the grave.

There is an important difference, of course, between the Ascension of Jesus into heaven after his Resurrection, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To ascend is to rise up under one's own power; while to be assumed means that the power is from without – it is the power of God. Jesus, being the Second Person of the Trinity, had no need of assistance; whereas Mary did not have this power of herself.

This Feast of the Assumption is a source of great hope for us on our pilgrimage for it points the way for all followers of her son, Jesus Christ, who imitate her fidelity and obedience to God's will. Where she now is, we are eventually meant to be, and may hope to be through divine grace and mercy.

Pope Benedict, in 2006, commented on this feast in these beautiful words,
By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful. Consequently, we must not lose our serenity and peace even amid the thousands of daily difficulties. The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon.

We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand. Supported by awareness of this, let us continue confidently on our path of Christian commitment wherever Providence may lead us. Let us forge ahead in our lives under Mary's guidance.

Today as we celebrate this feast let us be encouraged on our pilgrimage of faith. Let us, as Pope Emeritus Benedict suggested, lift our gaze from our daily challenges of life to look to the future that awaits us. In the midst of a world so marked by tragedy, suffering and evil, we see in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary hope that God’s salvation will eventually triumph. We live in this hope that one day we, too, will share in the glory of resurrection of the Lord.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 13 August 2016