The Assumption of Mary – a source of hope
On 1 November 1950, Pope Pius XII issued an Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, in which he solemnly defined Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven: “We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.” Though this truth of the faith is not found explicitly in the Gospels, it is nevertheless implicitly present. It has become more and more explicit in the belief of Catholics as the centuries passed. In South Africa – where Our Lady of the Assumption is the principal patron of our country – we celebrate this Solemnity on Sunday.
Whenever I think about Mary’s Assumption, I’m reminded of the beautiful hymn in Luke 1:46-55 that we call the Magnificat (which echoes 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Psalm 113). In it, Mary says of God “he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed… He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” In the Feast of the Assumption, we acknowledge and celebrate the degree of that ‘lifting up’, that God would receive her totally, as she was so totally open to his grace during her life.
If this Solemnity seems irrelevant, let’s pause to consider Mary’s life. Let’s remember that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph fled to another country as refugees, and lived for a time as members of a religious minority in occupied territory. Later on, she had to watch as her son suffered brutal government torture and public execution. Religious freedom, the rights of refugees, freedoms of association and speech, and basic human dignity, are all issues relevant to us today. And so the hope as we celebrate the Assumption – that God kept his promise and raised Mary, body and soul, into heaven – is a source of hope for all who suffer. We know that we will not enjoy the immediate gracious gift of bodily assumption – but we all hope to one day experience the Kingdom of God in heaven.
Let’s remember that the precursor to the Assumption was Mary’s “Yes” to God, but also her recognition of how the poor would be lifted up, and the powerful pulled down. We have lived through a period of kleptocracy in South Africa, where the poor have been truly downtrodden. We cannot celebrate this glorious and justly deserved feast day without looking around us and seeing how we can help uplift the poor. How might we pull down the ‘powerful from their thrones’ or work to ‘scatter the proud’ and send ‘the rich away empty’ so that the hungry might be ‘filled with good things’?
As we celebrate the Feast that offers us the hope of God’s continued promise to care for us and our country, we must not fail to play our part.