Today, instead of the liturgy of the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we celebrate the Vigil Mass of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Among the solemnities of Our Lady, maybe it is the most important, because by it we observe her heavenly glorification. A unique glorification, because, at the end of her earthly life, unlike other human beings, Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven.
The readings of the Mass illustrate this mystery. The first reading, taken from the Old Testament, is about the ark of the covenant. It had been made to keep the tablets of the law. It was considered by the Israelites the most precious thing they had. It was a sign of the presence of God among them. It was often called the “footstool” for the feet of the Lord. Today’s first reading relates the moment when the ark was introduced into Jerusalem. Up to David, the ark was kept under a tent; Solomon built the temple for it, and placed it in the innermost sanctuary of the temple, the so-called “Holy of Holies.” Well, the Virgin Mary has always been considered the “ark of the new covenant” (Foederis arca, we say in the litany), because she carried in her womb Jesus, the Son of God, who established the new and eternal covenant between God and man. The Jews believed that the ark of the covenant was incorruptible; according to a tradition, when the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, the ark was saved by the prophet Jeremiah and hidden on Mount Nebo; and they believe that it will reappear at the end of time. If the ark of the covenant was incorruptible, all the more so should the Mother of God be. The one who had carried in herself the Author of life could not experience the corruption of the tomb. As the introduction of the ark into the holy city was for its inhabitants a cause for celebration, so should the assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven be for us a motive for great joy.
The second reading reminds us of another reason which explains the assumption of Mary. The cause of death is sin. So the one who had not known sin, because she was immaculate, could not taste death. Of course, she had no merit in all that. Victory over sin and death was won by her Son Jesus Christ. She just took advantage of his victory, firstly being born without any stain of sin, and then not knowing the corruption of death.
In the gospel a woman declares “blessed” the womb that carried Jesus and the breasts at which he nursed. She is stating a profound truth; practically, with simple words, she is revealing in advance the mystery of Mary’s glorification. But it is interesting what Jesus replies, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” It is interesting, because it is for us a cause for consolation. We could feel a little frustrated before Mary: she was immaculate, she became the Mother of God, and finally she was assumed into heaven. And we? We are poor sinners: how can we aspire to such privileges? Those of the Blessed Virgin are unique graces; she alone received them. But God makes sure that we shall not want for the graces required for our salvation. The only thing he requests of us is to hear the word of God and observe it. If we do it, we too will share in the same glorious destiny as Mary’s.