August 13, 2023
Dear Parish Family:
This Tuesday (August 15) we will celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and commemorate the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven, before her body could begin to decay–a foretaste of our own bodily resurrection at the end of time. It is a Holy Day of Obligation and Catholics are required to attend Mass that day.
The Assumption is the oldest feast day of Our Lady. The exact year of the first celebration is unknown. Why? We need to remember that the early Christians were persecuted during the first three centuries after the resurrection of Jesus. Christian worship was against the law. Being a follower of Jesus could cost you your life. Many things had to be done in secret and literally underground. In 313, the Emperor Constantine decriminalized Christianity. His mother, Saint Helena, began the important work of finding and marking the holy sites of Jesus’ life. The sacred places began to be restored and memories of the life of Our Lord began to be celebrated publicly by the people of Jerusalem.
One of the memories was about Jesus’ mother. It centered around the “Tomb of Mary,” close to Mount Zion. On the hill itself was the “Place of Dormition,” the spot of Mary’s “falling asleep,” where she had died. The “Tomb of Mary” was where she was buried. Later on, the name was changed to the “Assumption of Mary,” since there was more to the feast than just Mary’s death. It also proclaimed that she had been taken up, body and soul, into heaven.
The belief in the Assumption of Mary dates back to the apostles themselves. There was no grave where her body lay buried. There was only an empty tomb on the edge of Jerusalem near the site of her death. That location also soon became a place of pilgrimage. The early Christians understood, believed, and taught Mary had died in the presence of the apostles and was immediately buried. When they went to visit her body soon after, the tomb was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven.
Why? It was through Mary’s body that God took flesh. The Incarnation took place. In her body she conceived of the Holy Spirit, carried Jesus in her womb, and gave birth to him. Her’s was a sacred body. God the Father would not allow decay to corrupt this precious vessel that brought his Son into the world.
The Assumption is God’s crowning of His work as Mary ends her earthly life and enters eternity. The feast turns our eyes in that direction, where we will follow when our earthly life is over. The feast days of the Church are not just the commemoration of historical events; they do not look only to the past. They look to the present and to the future and give us an insight into our own relationship with God. The Assumption looks to eternity and gives us hope that we, too, will follow Our Lady when our life is ended.
Our Lady of the Assumption, pray for us.
Masses of Obligation for the Assumption here at Good Shepherd are Monday at 5:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m.
Love and prayers,
Father Neil Sullivan