The Assumption of Our Lady and her house in Ephesus

Homily for August 15th - The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Earlier this year (2001) we were privileged when the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux visited Ireland. St. Thérèse is an example of someone who looked on Mary as a mother to her in a special way. Thérèse lost her mother before she reached ten years of age. Then she was fighting for her life during a grave illness and was miraculously cured through the intercession of Mary. Thérèse looked on herself as nestling in the arms of Mary. The child Jesus found protection in the arms of Mary and so also did Thérèse. The reason for our great joy today as we celebrate Mary’s Assumption into heaven is because we are celebrating a great privilege given to our heavenly mother.

One of the ways in which we can understand that rather strange first reading (Rev 12:1-6) is Mary in heaven helping to give birth to the Church on the earth, the Body of Christ. Just as once she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, now in heaven she intercedes before God for the Church, helping to give birth to the Church. That is why God sends her to places like Lourdes and Fatima to remind us how to live as members of the Church. That is why sometimes Mary is called the New Eve or the Second Eve. In the garden Adam and Eve gave way to temptation and went against God’s plan for us. But Jesus came to put right God’s plan for us and so he is sometimes called the Second Adam or New Adam, and as Mary helped in God’s plan she is sometimes called the New Eve or Second Eve. As the New Eve it is no wonder that from heaven she is helping to give birth to the Church.

It is fitting that Mary who cooperated with God’s plan for our salvation by saying yes to God and giving birth to Jesus would be honored at the end of her life by no decay touching her body. But it was not just a reward granted her by God for giving birth to Jesus rearing him; decay could not touch Mary’s body because she did not sin. In Rom 6:23 Paul says the “the wages of sin is death.” Because Mary was immaculate, and never sinned, it is only natural and logical that she would not suffer the consequences of sin, that decay would not touch her body. Instead she was assumed body and soul to the glory of heaven. When Jesus ascended into heaven there were many witnesses. Although no one witnessed Mary being assumed into heaven and it is not stated in Scripture, it has been the constant belief of the Church since the first century. When Pope Pius XII officially proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption in 1950 he did not clarify whether or not Mary died. He stated that at the end of her life she was assumed body and soul to the glory of heaven. However according to tradition she died but her body disappeared from her tomb because she was assumed into heaven.

There were more Gospels written than the four in the New Testament by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but the other Gospels were not accepted into the New Testament by the early Church because not all of their teaching was considered to reflect the faith of the Church. Some of those other Gospels state that Mary died and was buried near Gethsemane. Today there is a Greek Orthodox Church near Gethsemane in which there is a tomb where it is claimed Mary was placed after she died. However there is a stronger tradition that Mary spent the last part of her life in Ephesus in Turkey and died and was assumed into heaven from there. Two centuries ago the German mystic and stigmatist, Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, in visions which she received between 1818-1824, saw an image of Mary’s house on a hill near Ephesus. Sr. Anne Catherine Emmerich was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. The zeal of a French nun, Sr. Marie DeMandat-Grancey, resulted in the expedition that located the remains of the house in 1891, on Mt. Nightingale very near ancient Ephesus, exactly where Sr. Anne Catherine Emmerich said it was. (Fr. Eugene Poulin was also on the expedition but desires that posterity give the gratitude to Sr. Marie) The shape of the house and all other details exactly matched the description of Sr. Anne Catherine Emmerich, and it was the only stone house on the hill. Now that house on Mt. Nightingale very near ancient Ephesus is restored and venerated as the house where Mary came to spend the last years of her life to avoid the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem. It is in the care of the Franciscans and each year receives one and a half million visitors. The first church ever dedicated to Our Lady was built in Ephesus in the second century and Christians had a principle in the early Church that they only built a church in someone’s honor if that person lived and died or was martyred there. When Jesus was dying on the cross he asked his close friend and disciple John to look after his mother (John 19:26-27), and St. John also spent time in Ephesus and is buried there. In 431 AD a big council of the Church was held in Ephesus which declared Mary to be the Mother of God. Naturally the council declaring Mary as Mother of God would not have taken place there if they did not believe Mary had been there. Those who visit the house of Mary say they feel the presence of Our Lady there very strongly. Many graces and healings are received there and you can see many crutches left there by people who were miraculously healed there. The house is also visited by many Muslims because Muslims also have a strong devotion to Our Lady. In it excerpts about Our Lady from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, are plainly seen. It is the only place in the world where Muslims and Christians pray together peacefully. That is what Our Lady as a mother and the New Eve would want, all peoples praying together peacefully. On July 26th 1967, Pope Paul VI visited the house; on November 30th 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass nearby, and in 1991 he called it “the material home of Mary.” (Subsequent to my preaching this homily Pope Benedict also celebrated Mass there on November 29th 2006) (Some details of this paragraph are taken from a video entitled Mary's House - All Are Invited which is available from Mary's Media Foundation. More information on the house and its discovery is in a book entitled Mary's House: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Discovery of the House Where the Virgin Mary Lived and Died)

Mary’s assumption into heaven reminds us that the next life is only a wave of the hand away from this life, that there is only a veil between this life and the next. Our second reading today (2 Cor 15:20-26) referred to all being brought to life in Christ in their proper order. It is fitting that Mary was the first to be brought to life in Christ sharing the glory of his resurrection being assumed body and soul to heaven. It is a reminder to us of the glory that awaits each of us since we are all sons and daughters of God since our baptism. In his first letter John wrote, “My dear people, we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.” (1 John 3:2) Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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