(Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10; 1st. Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56)
The Assumption of Our Lady, which has been celebrated in the Eastern Liturgy since the 6th. Century, and in Rome since the 7th., was defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950 as a dogma of our faith. It states that, at the end of her life on earth, Mary did not know corruption, but was taken up to heaven, assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
The first point I want to stress today is that Mary was taken up to heaven as a human being, in her human flesh, albeit glorified in that humanity. This means that heaven and the joys of heaven are not alien to us in our humanity. Whereas it could have been feared that although the human flesh of Jesus was glorified in His Resurrection and Ascension, that was because it was the flesh of Jesus, a divine Person, the very Son of God, and so did not set any precedent, did not necessarily offer any hope, for us ordinary human beings. The same, however, cannot be said of Mary’s flesh, since it was the flesh of our sister, the flesh of a merely human person and creation of God.
And so, thanks to Jesus’ victory over sin and death, thanks to the coming and abiding with us and in us of the Holy Spirit, the body and soul of Mary -- a sublime woman and yet an ordinary, human personal being -- is now supremely happy in heavenly glory; which means that the joys of heaven can indeed be for our total human fulfilment and glorification, for in heaven we will see and experience depths of divine beauty, goodness, and truth beyond all our imaginings indeed, but, for all that, a beauty, goodness and truth, we will gratefully acknowledge ourselves to have already partially -- though fleetingly -- experienced in our life of devotion on earth, whilst also, in humble confusion, confessing that we never really appreciated them aright.
Imagine a farming couple who started out with a small holding, who had to struggle through years of natural adversity, drought, floods, blights of various kinds, and through periods when capital was short and anxiety was oppressive. Imagine such a couple, years later, when their farm has grown beyond anything they might have anticipated; when they can look out on acres upon acres of fine crops growing and feel secure in the knowledge that they have built up something which will last because it is established on firm foundations of hard work and sound finance. Their joy on looking out over their smiling fields will be all the greater because they are now seeing the fruitful outcome of all the efforts they had made over the years before.
Our experience of heaven will be somewhat similar to that, in so far as its joys will not be entirely new or totally unconnected with our earthly experiences. We will recognise the sublime goodness of the divine Wisdom and Providence which guided us throughout our lives, together with the beautiful gifts of human friendship and love we experienced in our dearest and deepest relationships. We will be both thrilled and amazed at the glorious truths of our faith which we understood so little and scarcely appreciated before. In other words, heavenly joy will be the transcendent flowering and glorious fulfilment of all that had been truly beautiful and worth-while in our lives as disciples of Jesus pilgrimaging successfully through this world. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans (8:29-30) writes:
Whom (the Father) foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Mary is indeed the only one who has shared in the glory of Jesus so far, it is His supreme gift to His most faithful and loving mother; but since she is, by His gift, also our mother, therefore all His true disciples can receive and one day will receive, with her, their share in His glory when He comes in the fullness of time to judge the world. Mary has already been glorified in her humanity: she is the pledge that what Jesus won in His humanity, has been won for us, for all His true disciples.
Now let us turn our minds back to the first reading where we heard:
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun
Pope Paul VI strongly suggested that Our Lady of Fatima’s appearance was the fulfilment of that prophecy, and Pope John Paul II not only suggested but even affirmed that this “great sign in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun” has been fulfilled, after 1900 years, in the events that took place at Fatima on the 15th. October 1917, when 70,000 people saw the “sun dance”. Let me read the account in the Masonic and anti-clerical newspaper “O Seculo” reporting those events:
We saw the huge crowd turn toward the sun which appeared at its zenith, clear of the clouds. It resembled a flat plate of silver, and it was possible to stare at it without the least discomfort. It did not burn the eyes. It did not blind. Before the dazed eyes of the people the sun trembled, it made strange and abrupt movements, outside of all cosmic laws, the “sun danced” according to the expression of the people.
According to other eyewitnesses “it seemed the sun was being detached from the sky and was falling on us. It was a terrible moment.” The miracle lasted about 8 minutes, after which the sun returned to its place in the sky, while the ground, which before the miracle had been saturated due to an all-night driving rain, was seen to be dry. Likewise, the clothes of those who had been standing all day in the rain before the miracle were completely dry.
Pope John Paul said:
According to divine plan, “a Woman clothed with the sun” came down from heaven to this earth to visit the privileged children of the Father. She speaks to them with a mother’s voice and heart: she asks them to offer themselves as victims of reparation, saying that she was ready to lead them safely to God. The message of Fatima is a call to conversion, alerting humanity to have nothing to do with the “dragon” whose “tail swept down a; third of the star of heaven, and cast them to the earth.
In those appearances, Mary affirmed clearly the reality of hell saying to the children: “You have seen Hell where the souls of poor sinners go”. She likewise affirmed the reality of Purgatory: when Lucia, one of the three children to whom Our Lady appeared, asked about a friend of hers who had died at about the age of 18 or 20, Our Lady answered, “she will be in Purgatory until the end of the world”. Another friend of Lucia’s, however, who had died at the age of 16, was in heaven Our Lady said.
The important thing for me to do today, People of God, is to remind you of our commitment to Mary our Mother. Her prayers are totally dedicated to ‘making-up’, so to speak, for all the many failings in our response to God’s grace; grace so abundantly won for us by her Son, and so freely offered to us by His Spirit. She is totally committed to us her children, and what she asks of us in return is: daily recitation of the Rosary; the offering of our daily duty to God as an act of sacrifice in reparation for sins; and the dedication of Five First Saturdays of reparation to her Immaculate Heart.
However, there is a final point concerning those words from the book of Revelation which state, as you heard:
Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
What are the stars? Catholic commentators have commonly said that the stars of Heaven represent the Catholic clergy. Sister Lucy says the most effective way the devil can do harm to souls is by taking away their leaders, the priests; and we have indeed seen manifest evidence of the devil’s campaign against priests. Fr. Nicholas Gruner, perhaps the priest most closely associated with efforts to spread abroad the message of Fatima said:
If one third of the stars of Heaven are dragged down, then people will find it harder to save their souls. The faithful must be careful to follow those Catholic clergy who preserve the faith. It is important for people to pray for priests, for bishops, for the Cardinals, for the Pope.
People of God, Our Lady’s Assumption is the pledge of our future blessedness and fulfilment in God; for, just as sinful Eve misled Adam and thus helped close the gates of Paradise to her children, so Mary was Immaculate in following her Son -- the second Adam -- Who has opened those blessed gates once more for His disciples and her children. And now, Our Lady of Fatima, the Woman clothed with the Sun, has come to warn us her children of the dangers which threaten us in our affluent western world where irresponsible dedication to the pursuit of personal pleasure, worldly plenty, and moral self-determination, so frequently takes hold of and ruins human lives. These are dangers, Mary tells us, which would rob us of our divine and eternal inheritance.
Let us therefore look once again at Our Blessed Lady on this celebration of her Assumption into heaven to learn more of the supreme glory of that divine inheritance that can, and will be ours, if we but heed her warning and follow Our Lord’s way.
Mary received the Gift of God, that is, the most Holy Spirit, when, St. Luke tells us:
The angel (Gabriel) said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you … (1:35ss.)
The Spirit was given her then to enable her to become the worthy Mother of God. It was like that with Jesus Himself when the Spirit came upon Him at His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist: for then the Spirit came upon Jesus for a particular purpose, namely, to prepare Him in His humanity to undertake His public ministry to the People of Israel; and when Jesus rose from the dead He did so, once again, in the power of the Spirit Who glorified His human nature for His ascension to heavenly and eternal life. Mary did indeed meet her risen and glorious Son on earth, but her joy as such a mother was short-lived for He was soon to ascend into heaven, necessarily leaving her behind gazing after Him because her human relationship with Him, even that of immaculate motherhood, could not sustain the intimacy, depth, and intensity of a heavenly and eternal relationship. Mary did receive the Holy Spirit once again while yet on earth, this time at Pentecost, for her role as Mother of the Church. Ultimately however, the Spirit needed to totally glorify and transfigure her in her Assumption that she might be able to enter upon her ultimate and eternal calling as Queen of heaven and Mother of Jesus, mankind’s Saviour, and the eternal Word and only-begotten Son of Him Who is the heavenly Father of all.
People of God, our union with Jesus in heaven will be closer and more intimate than we can begin to imagine, because it well be based upon the Holy Spirit Himself. Today, therefore, we have double cause for rejoicing: let us rejoice with Mary for her heavenly beatitude in and with her Son before the Father; let us also rejoice in her motherly solicitude for us her children on our earthly pilgrimage. However, let us make sure we also give her cause to rejoice by embracing her requests and acknowledging her warnings.