Some of you may be wondering who I am today. I have attended in choir at this Mass a few times but this is the first time I have Assisted at the altar. My name is Deacon Matthew Hardesty and I am a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville. I was just ordained a Deacon in April. It is a great honor for me to Assist as the Subdeacon alongside my good friends Fr. Paul Beach, the celebrant, and Fr. Fred Klotter, your pastor and the Deacon for today. Add to that, it has been a good while since a Solemn High Mass has been celebrated here at St. Martin's and the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the most beautiful Feast days that Holy Mother Church celebrates. This is truly a monumental occasion.
After hearing Fr. Klotter chant the Gospel reading, I fondly remembered an inscription on the baldachino standing over the altar at the seminary. It is the first phrase of Mary's canticle of praise to God - Magnificat anima mea Dominum – My soul magnifies the Lord. At every daily Mass at the seminary, going back to when I first entered seminary in August of 2005, I have read that phrase and pondered its meaning. What does it mean for one's very soul to magnify the Lord? What does it mean for all of us today on the Feast of the Assumption of the B.V.M.?
The answer begins in the Old Testament with the widow Judith, who was the object of the epistle that I chanted. We hear her being praised for her victory over the Assyrians on behalf of the Israelites, but we do not hear exactly what she did. Due to her splendid beauty and surpassing wisdom, she was able to get close to the enemy king. She had great courage and faith in the Lord's protection and strength. When the king was asleep she took his sword and decapitated him, much to the horror of their enemies who fled in fear and were defeated. The Israelites praised her as blessed "above all women upon the earth." They declared that God had magnified her name on that fateful day and that her praise shall come from the mouths of men forever. Judith was considered the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, the honor of her people.
The Church presents Judith to us today so that we might turn our eyes to the woman par excellence, most resplendent in beauty, most blessed among women, whom all generations shall call blessed – the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the glory, the joy, the honor of Israel, too be sure, but also of all mankind. By her courage in saying Yes to becoming the Mother of God and by her faith and hope in God's promises she brought about a victory much greater than one nation over another. As Judith won victory for Israel by a fatal blow to the head of the enemy king, Mary brings about the victory over Satan by bearing our Savior, Jesus Christ, who crushes the head of sin and death underfoot. The Lord God prophesied to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." But, Mary does not magnify herself by her virtues. She sings, "my soul magnifies the Lord." What does this mean? It means that her entire life joyfully proclaims to all generations our Lord's conclusive victory over sin and death.
Due to the fall of our first parents, sin took hold over the beginning and the end of human life. At his conception, man inherits original sin and what we call concupiscence or the tendency toward sin. And at his very end he must suffer the wages of sin which are death and the decomposition of his body. But, the Blessed Virgin Mary shines forth as a beacon from God's heavenly kingdom, showing us even now, before Christ's second coming, that he is completely victorious over sin and death. The Lord, by Mary's Immaculate Conception, saved her from original sin before she could be sullied by it, thus showing his victory over the beginning of life. By freeing her from the snares of concupiscence, he prepared her to live a life free from actual committed sin. And by assuming her body and soul into heaven he showed his victory over the end of life. Mary was saved completely from the dominion and the bonds of sin and death.
When Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in 1950 he defined the essence of the dogma to be thus: "The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death" (Munificentissimus Deus). This is what Catholics must believe. But what does this have to do with us?
First, Mary's Assumption is the guarantee that those who share in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, will share in his glory. Even though the Fathers of the Church differ on this point, I believe that Mary did die. But, the key difference between her death and ours is that our death will happen by necessity because we are fallen and sinful. On the other hand, Mary's death was not by necessity because she had no sin, weather that be original sin or committed sin. Her death was a grace from God so that she might be conformed to her Son even in his death. And her death lasted only an instant, in order to serve this purpose and in order that she might continue to be conformed to him in eternal life. Her body was joined to her soul in heaven at the moment of her death, so that it would not know decay, and so that she would not have to wait for her Son's second coming, wherein all of our bodies will be joined to our souls in heaven, hell, or purgatory. Her body and soul were immediately assumed into heaven.
If the kingdom of heaven has a king, that is Jesus Christ, then it must have a queen, the Blessed Virgin Mary. By sharing in Christ's sufferings at the foot of the cross, and by sharing in his death by a singular grace from God, she proved to us that Jesus keeps his promises: she shares in his heavenly glory. If we offer up our sufferings, great and small, to the Father and die to ourselves, our passions, and our own will, each and every day, we too will share in Christ's glory alongside our Blessed Mother who reflects the glory of her Son every time we look to her.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary also teaches us the honor due to our father and mother. Jesus followed the fourth commandment to its ultimate degree by bringing his mother, body and soul, quickly to his side at the moment of her death. He crowned her queen of heaven and earth. As Mary described in her canticle of praise, "He that is mighty, hath done great things to me; … he hath exalted the humble." Fr. Matthias Scheeben, the brilliant German theologian of the mid 1800's, described beautifully the honor that the Son of God showed His Mother: "As He on the third day had raised from the sepulcher that holy and incorrupt body which He had taken from her and had united to His own person, so also this mother was snatched from the grave and conformed to her Son; and as He had descended to her, so she, as being closely united with that greater and more perfect tabernacle, was taken up into heaven." How do we honor our father and mother, especially as they approach old age or death? Do we forget them or abandon them? Do we "honor" them by squabbling over money or inheritance? Jesus Christ is calling us today to honor our father and mother as if they were his Heavenly Father and his Blessed Mother for they have been given to us to lead us to these Holy Parents.
When I return to seminary next week for my last year, I will again kneel in the chapel and read that inscription over the altar each and every day – Magnificat anima mea Dominum – My soul magnifies the Lord. Oremus pro invicem – Let us pray for each other, today and during this year. Let us pray that through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth, we will not magnify ourselves by our faith and works, but instead always magnify our Lord. Let us pray that through her intercession we will share in his suffering and death and so share in his glory. That through her intercession we will honor our father and mother and give them the crown that they deserve. Finally, let us pray, that through her intercession we too will be brought swiftly to the side of our Lord when we die. In the Name of the Father… Amen.