For the past several years I have been making use of a reader’s guide to the Lectionary. It offers helpful tips for proclaiming the Word at Mass, as well as some helpful commentary. Regarding today’s solemnity with its remarkable first reading from Revelation, the guide has this to say: “Remember, you are recounting a mystical vision, not something that happened at the grocery. Speak…with great reverence” (p. 223). That observation and direction apply to the whole of Sacred Scripture.
Up the street, our friends in the United Church of Christ advertise with the maxim, “God is still speaking: Listen!” It is hoped that our lectors, as well as we clergy, proclaim the sacred text with “great reverence,” and it is equally hoped that the faithful receive it with “great reverence,” because God continues to be made flesh--in a manner of speaking--at each and every Mass, in the proclamation of the Word and especially in the offering of the Eucharist. Today’s solemnity is an example of God’s continued action in the Church--in particular, the Catholic and Orthodox churches, who continue the Apostolic Tradition from the lips of Christ Himself and His chosen leaders. It is not to say that our Protestant brethren care nothing for the Mother of God, but that the Church of Christ which is found most fully in the Catholic Church holds Mary in due regard for her role in salvation history.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church illustrates the ways that the Church grows in receiving the heritage of faith: through the contemplation and study of believers, in particular theologians; in the spiritual sense that believers exhibit through their disciplines; and in the charism that Bishops exercise in their preaching. Quoting the Second Vatican Council’s document on Divine Revelation, the Catechism continues: “…Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (CCC 95; DV 10§3).
I mention these points from the Catechism because the dogma of the Assumption was solemnly defined in 1950, within the lifetime of many. At the same time, the Assumption of Our Lady was not a new notion. Several early Fathers of the Church, most notably Saint John Damascene in the 8th century, spoke much about Mary’s freedom from the corruption of death as a necessary consequence of both her exalted role as the God-bearer and every other way in which she participated most intimately in the life of her Son. Pope Pius XII’s official declaration was the Church’s way of removing any confusion in the matter of Mary’s corporeal share in the glory of the Lord. Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium combine as panes of glass through which Divine Light and Love shine with unparalleled clarity.
Mary as Ark of the Covenant and Keeper of the Flame—indeed not a matter for the “Daily Docket” or even for a front-page headline in the largest font! It is the mystery of the ages: a lowly maiden of Nazareth has, by God’s design and by her free choice, become the firstfruits of universal salvation in Jesus the Christ; and we celebrate that mystery today in the way that she entered the communion of the Trinity with soul and body intact. Lest we forget: it is the same hope shared by all believers.