This year August 15th falls on a Sunday. So, the readings for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary will be proclaimed at Sunday Mass. This means many Catholics will be present to celebrate this Feast for the first time in a long time, since they often don’t get around to attending Mass whenever any Holy Day of Obligation falls on a weekday. (In the modern American Catholic dictionary, the word “obligation” is now defined to mean: if I feel like it.)
This is a very interesting feast. It commemorates a very fascinating event: the Blessed Virgin Mary’s entire body being supernaturally “assumed” into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. The gospel reading is from Luke, chapter 1, and it describes the time when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth cried out to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Mary responded by praying what has come to be known as “the Magnificat,” which begins, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Hey, wait a minute. Why are they using that reading instead of the actual Bible passage that describes Mary’s Assumption? Ha! Trick question. There IS no Bible passage that describes the Assumption. Our knowledge of that event is based on Church Tradition.
You see, from the very beginning, Jesus founded His Church. He said St. Peter would be the “rock” on which the Church would be built (Matthew, chapter 16). Jesus founded a Church, He did not write a book.
When giving pastoral instructions to Timothy, St. Paul wrote, “You should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).
St. Paul’s epistle, which is now part of the Bible, claims the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. Nowhere does he or any other biblical author claim that the Bible is the sole authority.
Here’s another example: St. Paul also wrote, ““Hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thes 2:15).
It is very clear there are important teachings about our faith that were written and eventually compiled in the Bible. And there are important teachings that were passed along by word of mouth. These oral teachings are what we call the Apostolic Tradition.
One of these Apostolic Traditions is the claim that Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven. Is that idea so far-fetched? Jesus Himself ascended bodily into Heaven. Would a loving son do no less for His mom?
Two other figures in the Bible also experienced supernatural ends to their natural lives without experiencing death: Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11).
So, there is biblical precedent for people who are especially close to God to experience very stunning, supernatural endings to their earthly lives. I ask you: who in all history was closer to God than the mother of the incarnate Jesus? If anyone is going to experience one of these special endings, why not Mary?
One important point about this Feast Day: although we honor Mary as the preeminent of all saints, Catholics in no way worship Mary. (And if some do, it is done out of ignorance, and it is very wrong.) The Church clearly teaches that worship is reserved for God alone. Mary is not divine. She is a great saint and servant of the Lord. In fact, she referred to God as her Savior in the Magnificat, which means she needed divine help to reach Heaven, something a god or goddess wouldn’t need. The Trinity is complete and perfect as a trio. There’s no need to make it a quartet.
As Christians, we are supposed to immitate Jesus. Well, Jesus honored His mom. Therefore, we should honor her, too. Make sure you pay attention at Mass this week!