Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Doctrinal Homily Outline for August 15 (Vigil Mass)
Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)
Central idea: The Ark of the Covenant. Doctrine: The Assumption. Practical application: Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Reading 1 1 Chron 15:3-4, 15-16; 16:1-2
David assembled all Israel in Jerusalem to bring the ark of the LORD
to the place which he had prepared for it.
David also called together the sons of Aaron and the Levites.
The Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders with poles,
as Moses had ordained according to the word of the LORD.
David commanded the chiefs of the Levites
to appoint their kinsmen as chanters,
to play on musical instruments, harps, lyres, and cymbals,
to make a loud sound of rejoicing.
They brought in the ark of God and set it within the tent
which David had pitched for it.
Then they offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings to God.
When David had finished offering up the burnt offerings and peace offerings,
he blessed the people in the name of the LORD.
- The Ark of the Covenant was the beautiful and precious chest, designed by God, which contained God’s Word, the tablets on which God himself wrote the Law he gave to Moses.
- This reading is an example of how New Testament realities are hidden in the Old Testament. The Ark is a type or foreshadowing of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the beautiful and precious vessel, designed by God to be free of Original Sin and filled with every grace, to contain the very Word of God, the Incarnate Son of the Father and Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
- This is why in the Litany of Loreto one of the titles Our Lady is praised with is “Ark of the Covenant.”
Responsorial Psalm Ps 132:6-7, 9-10, 13-14
R. Lord, go up to the place of your rest, you and the ark of your holiness.
Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
Let us enter his dwelling,
let us worship at his footstool.
May your priests be clothed with justice;
let your faithful ones shout merrily for joy.
For the sake of David your servant,
reject not the plea of your anointed.
For the LORD has chosen Zion;
he prefers her for her dwelling.
“Zion is my resting place forever;
in her will I dwell, for I prefer her.”
- This Psalm was sung when the Ark of the Covenant was transferred from the Tabernacle outside the city to Jerusalem or Zion. God desired the Ark, his throne, to be in Zion.
- “For the LORD has chosen Zion; he prefers her for her dwelling.” The LORD prefers Zion for his Ark’s dwelling.
- In the same way, we learn in the Annunciation that God chose a new place to dwell: the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- The LORD has chosen Mary; he prefers her for his dwelling.
- He dwelt in her physically for nine months and he dwells in her through grace from that time on forever.
- As the Ark of the New Covenant, Mary also needs a place to dwell forever. That place is the New Jerusalem, heaven.
- The LORD has chosen Zion; he prefers heaven for Mary’s dwelling.
Reading 2 1 Cor 15:54b-57
Brothers and sisters:
When that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,
then the word that is written shall come about:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- God gave to the Blessed Virgin Mary his Son’s victory over death at the moment of her conception by preserving her from the consequences of Original Sin and filling her with grace. This gift was given in view of her vocation to be the Mother of God.
- The moral law reveals the reality of sin and so gives sin its power to condemn man to death. But the moral law had no power to condemn Mary because she never sinned. Death could never destroy her. So, at the end of her life on earth, her mortal body was clothed in immortality.
Gospel Lk 11:27-28
While Jesus was speaking,
a woman from the crowd called out and said to him,
“Blessed is the womb that carried you
and the breasts at which you nursed.”
“Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it.”
- The most basic reason we call Mary blessed is that she did, better than any human being, “hear the word of God and observe it.”
- She heard the word of God from Gabriel that God would dwell in her physically in his Incarnation and Mary said yes.
- She heard the Law, the word of God which was carried in the Ark of the Covenant, and observed it all her life.
- She heard the word of God from the lips of the Word of God. She observed the Word of God with her own eyes. She kept all these things in her heart.
- We don’t know why this woman from the crowd said what she said. It is clear that she was praising both Jesus and his mother. As a woman who was a mother or who wanted to be a mother, this woman in the crowd praised the Mother of Christ with the focus on physical, life-giving femininity: the womb which nurtured and protected the fetus Jesus as he grew and the breasts which fed him as a baby and a toddler until weaned. Mary was blessed in this way, as is every human mother who accepts her gift of femininity.
- Perhaps this woman in the crowd was really saying, “I wish I had a son like you. If I had a son like you I would be blessed.” There are many mothers who haven’t gotten what they hoped. To make this universal, how many of us can say, “Things have not turned out the way I wished. I have regrets”?
- Our Lord shifts what the woman says to a deeper level. The truly blessed person is the one who hears what God has to say and conforms her life to that word. And the Blessed Virgin Mary was such a person par excellence. She heard the word of God from the angel Gabriel and said, “Let it be done to me as you have said.” And she never stopped observing God’s will.
- In the same way, the woman in the crowd could also be blessed in this way. She too could hear the word of God and keep it. That way, if her original words were spoken out of regret, if she was really saying, “I do not feel blessed because I do not have a son,” or “The son I have is not the son I would wish,” she can have something even better, just by conforming her life to the will of God.
- The same is true for each of us. We can have the best thing for us by imitating the Blessed Virgin Mary and hearing the word of God and keeping it. We can be the Blessed Woman in the Crowd or the Blessed Man in the Pew.
Doctrine: The Assumption
- What is the doctrine of the Assumption we celebrate today?
- “The Immaculate Mother of God . . . having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (MD 44).
- “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (CCC 966).
- Christ rose from the dead with his glorified body never to die again. The Blessed Virgin Mary never experienced physical death, that is, the separation of her body from her soul, because she was preserved at the moment of her own conception from original sin and she never committed an actual sin.
- Her Assumption anticipates the final judgment when God will reunite our bodies with our immortal souls.
Practical Application: Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- We venerate Mary to honor her and to become more like her.
- Just as the ancient Jews venerated the Ark of the Covenant (it was the only physical thing they were permitted to venerate—everything else was idolatry), we can also venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary. Catholic piety has invented countless ways to do so. I’ll discuss just two here.
- Veneration of Our Lady through images:
- The Ark was kept in a tent or tabernacle and later in the Temple in the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could see it and he could see it only once a year. When the Temple was sacked and razed, the Ark disappeared. The ancient Jews must have longed to see the Ark again and devout Jews must still desire to see it.
- We can see Mary anytime we want through some image of her. Do you have an image of Mary close by? In your bedroom, or on your desk, or as a screensaver on your computer, or in your car? You want this so that from time to time during the day you can look at her with love and remind yourself that she heard the word of God and kept it . . . and so should you. Remember, we venerate Mary to honor her and to become more like her.
- Veneration through praying the Hail Mary.
- Drawing on Sacred Scripture, Catholic piety composed the Hail Mary. We can say this prayer throughout the day in many contexts. One special one is as a last thing at night. As we fall asleep it is appropriate to ask her to intercede for us at the hour of our death.
- We are sinners because we disobey the moral law. Sin is what gives death its sting. We pray for the same victory over death that Mary accomplished by her cooperation with the graces God gave her. Again, we venerate Mary to honor her and to become more like her.