Every week, not only are we given different Scripture readings – but we also have different prayers from Sunday to Sunday – prayers that help set the tone for the celebration of the liturgy.
The opening prayer, called the collect – is meant to gather or collect all the intentions we are bringing to the celebration of the Mass and offering them to God. It’s the offering of our very selves at the beginning of Mass – the offering of our faults and failings, and of our hopes and desires.
The prayer over the gifts connects this particular Eucharistic celebration to the sacrifice of Christ, made on the cross.
And the prayer after Communion and before the final blessing always directs us to go out into the world to live what we have just celebrated.
Another important prayer of the Mass is the Preface – which comes after the prayer over the gifts and before the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer – on special occasions it is often sung – as it will be today.
This is what we will pray:
Today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven // as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection --- and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people (that is all of us).
Rightly you would not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb since from her own body, she marvelously brought forth your incarnate son, the author of all life.
So there’s a lot going on in that prayer, but it tells us three things in particular which we celebrate today:
First: Mary was assumed into heaven.
Second: Mary’s assumption brings comfort and hope to us.
And Third: Mary’s perfection is a promise of our perfection to come.
These three things celebrated today-- point to the past, the present, and the future.
Mary’s assumption, an event over 2,000 years ago in the past, gives us and the Church for all ages comfort and hope in the present, and shows us what we hope to become in the future.
So let’s look at each of these. What do we mean when we say Mary was assumed into heaven? It means that at the end of her earthly life – Mary’s body, as well as her soul ---- were taken directly into heaven.
Earthly remains are normally buried: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Yet Mary, because she was totally faithful to the will of God in her life, was taken incorrupt body and soul – into the heavenly realm by God.
There is even historical proof for this – although it is proof by absence – in that the early Church had a profound respect and devotion to the earthly remains of the saints.
And it was the practice of the Church to gather at the places where the remains of the saints were buried. Yet no community ever claimed to have the remains of the Mother of our Lord – because -- she had been taken directly to heaven.
That’s the past. As for the present: why should Mary’s Assumption give us hope and comfort?
The Assumption is like the light at the end of a dark tunnel – or a lighthouse guiding us safely into a harbor. Where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.
Remember: eternal life is what all of this is about. . . We are right here, right now – week after week, year after year – because we believe it is here that our fallen, sinful selves are redeemed and made holy and made worthy of heaven.
So the Assumption is comforting because we can have real hope amidst all of the difficulties and darkness and temptations of life – that we can receive the gift of eternal life.
That’s why the passage from the Book of Revelation is used today. It presents a vision of the struggle between a woman and a dragon – between Mary and the power of Satan.
Living the Christian faith, being faithful to God and the teachings of Christ in the present -- involves struggles. We are struggling against the forces of evil – and trying to keep faithful to God.
Mary knew this struggle – as her life involved terrible suffering and great challenges. At the cross she saw her Son suffer the cruel death of crucifixion.
Mary knew loss: she knew the hardship of journeying to Bethlehem during her pregnancy and fleeing to Egypt because of King Herod’s threat to her newborn child.
Yet, through the hardships and struggles --- Mary remained faithful – and she obeyed God – and today we celebrate the result of that faithfulness – because she was untouched by sin, at the end of her earthly life – Mary was taken incorrupt body and soul, directly to heaven.
As for the future: Mary’s perfection and her heavenly destination is a sign of our perfection to come one day to heaven. We sometimes think of heaven as only the realm of spirits – of souls. But Mary’s Assumption reminds us that heaven also involves a bodily reality.
Our eternal destiny is not to be merely a spirit in God’s presence – but to be made perfect body and soul in God’s presence –
as we profess every week in the Creed when we say we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Where at Easter we celebrate Christ’s bodily resurrection and victory over death ---- today’s feast of the Assumption celebrates that victory applied to God’s most obedient creature, Mary, who shows us what is in store for all the faithful followers of Christ.
Today, as we renew our faith in Christ’s power to do amazing things – by contemplating the great miracle of the Assumption – let’s ask the blessed Mother to obtain for us all the grace we need to be faithful and obedient to all the Lord asks of us, so that like Mary – we may radiate God’s goodness and greatness – now and for all eternity.
Moments in time...