Monday, August 19, 2013

Vigil of the Assumption

Celebrate Mary as the New Ark, as a Victor, and as the Perfect Disciple.

Interesting to have a first reading on the ark of the covenant.  What does it have to do with Mary’s Assumption?

David commanded the chiefs of the Levites
to appoint their kinsmen as chanters,
to play on musical instruments, harps, lyres, and cymbals,
to make a loud sound of rejoicing.

We too rejoice in the presence of an ark, the ark of the new covenant.

In the Old Testament the Ark is described as being about 2.5ft square and about 4.5ft long.  It was made of special acacia wood which was incorruptible, was covered inside and out with the purest, finest gold, and had a ring of gold on top. On each of the two sides were two gold rings that two wooden poles went through to allow the Ark to be carried. Even these poles were sheathed in gold. Over the Ark, at the two ends, were two cherubim, with their faces turned toward one another. Their outspread wings over the top of the Ark formed the throne of God, while the Ark itself was his footstool.

The Ark of the Covenant was built so magnificently because it stood for God’s very presence among the Hebrews. The Book of Lamentations called it “the beauty of Israel.”  It was pure, incorruptible, and of the highest beauty. It also held inside three items that were crucial to their faith and identity: the tablets of the 10 commandments of God’s Law; a golden vase containing the manna from heaven that fed them in the desert; and the rod of the high priest, Aaron, that bloomed in affirmation of his priesthood. But the beauty of the ark was not only due to what it symbolized or what it contained but what it prefigured, what it pointed to in the future: The beauty and purity of the Ark of the New Covenant: The Blessed Virgin MaryWe celebrate today a New Ark of a New Covenant with a beauty the Old Ark only aspired to have.

This point is packed with meaning! First the gold lining and covering of the old Ark pointed to the Immaculate purity of the Virgin Mary, the New Ark. And the three things the old Ark contained – The tablets of the Law, the golden vase of manna, and the rod of Aaron – are also in the New Ark, in the person of Jesus Christ, when Mary carried Him in her womb. He is the author of the Law, He is the Bread from Heaven, and He is the eternal High Priest.

In Israel’s history the Old Ark traveled often with them, finally resting in the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem where scholars believe it was lost when the temple was destroyed in 587 B.C.  This too prefigured something greater. Today we celebrate Mary’s entrance, body and soul, into heaven as the entrance of the new ark into the heavenly temple of Jerusalem.  Immaculate in soul and virginal in body she is without corruption and found worthy to enter immediately into glory.

In celebrating the Assumption we also celebrate the victory of Christ, as our second reading suggests:

When that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,
then the word that is written shall come about:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

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 escaped both.  She 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, thus showing his victory over the course of life.  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 it this way: “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?

Mary’s Assumption is the guarantee that those who share in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, will share in his victory and glory.  By sharing in Christ’s suffering and death at the foot of the cross, Mary 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 victory and glory alongside our Blessed Mother.

Finally, in the Gospel we celebrate her as the perfect disciple.  She traveled a rough road to the glory she now enjoys.  She was active and cooperative.  She said Yes throughout her life.  She had faith, she trusted God without knowing the future.  She surrendered completely to his will even to the death of Jesus on the cross.  She is the mother of Jesus, but also his disciple.

To be a disciple of Christ is more blessed than to be his mother.  The woman in the crowd praised Mary for being Jesus’s Mother.  But when Jesus replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” he was making a point that Spiritual relationship is more important than blood relationship.  Of course, She was blessed on both accounts.  St. Augustine said, “Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s will, and so it was to her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood.  Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.”

She is taken up into heaven not only as his mother but as the perfect disciple.  She heard the word of God and kept it.  We are invited to follow her.  How is God calling you to follow Him in your particular state in life?  To know, we need to be open to the Word and respond with our own Yes.  If we respond like this, like Mary, we too will be glorified.

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