by Fr. Tommy Lane
Today we give thanks to God for the great honor bestowed on Mary in not allowing decay to touch her body. At the end of her earthly life she was assumed body and soul into heaven. It was indeed fitting that no decay would touch her body because she had given birth to Jesus and also because she was sinless. She was immaculately conceived and remained sinless throughout her life. Death is the result of sin as Scripture tells us (Rom 6:23) so therefore she was assumed body and soul to heaven at the end of her earthly life.
One of the titles we give to our Lady is Ark of the Covenant and our first reading opens with John’s vision of heaven in which he sees something which would startle his contemporaries – he sees the Ark of the Covenant (Rev 11:19). The Ark of the Covenant had been missing for centuries before the time of Jesus and we can imagine the shock that John’s account would have caused in the first century as he related that he saw the ark in heaven. The Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was precious not because of its gold decoration but because it contained three precious items (Heb 9:4),
the two tablets of stone containing the ten commandments which had been written by the hand of God,
Aaron’s rod that budded.
We can say that Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament prefigured Mary in the New Testament, it was pointing forward to Mary in the New Testament. How and Why? Mary carried in her womb
Jesus the living Word of God, the Word made flesh (not just written on stone as in the Old Testament)
Jesus was the Bread of Life (John 6) (fulfillment of the manna of the Old Testament)
Jesus was the Priest of the New Testament (Letter to the Hebrews) (Aaron was a priest and those descended from his were priests but Jesus is the Priest of the New Testament)
If we compare Mary visiting Elizabeth in our Gospel today with King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem for the first time we get further hints that the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was looking forward to Mary as the greater Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament:
David dances for joy in 2 Sam 6:5 and John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb in Luke 1:44.
David calls out, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” in 2 Sam 6:9 and Elizabeth calls out, “why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” in Luke 1:43.
The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite a few miles outside Jerusalem for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his whole house in 2 Sam 6:11, and Mary remained about three months with Elizabeth in Luke 1:56 a few miles outside Jerusalem.
After John sees the Ark of the Covenant in heaven in our first reading he sees another vision, as if to confirm that Mary is indeed the Ark of the Covenant of the New Testament; he sees
“a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars…” (Rev 12:1)
This is the form of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the tilma of St. Juan Diego. The woman in John’s vision was pregnant and giving birth to a male child and at the same time a dragon was waiting to do harm to the child but both the mother and child were spared by divine intervention. We can understand this vision of John as Israel in the Old Testament giving birth to the Church in the New Testament and the dragon is the devil trying to destroy the Church.
An even better way to understand John’s vision is that the woman is Mary, the Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament, and she is helping each of us to come to birth spiritually because she is the Mother of the Church and the devil is making war on us. Some people find it difficult to see the woman as Mary but when you read this passage in the context of the rest of Scripture we can indeed see this passage as referring to Mary:
Although the passage says the woman gave birth in pain (Rev 12:2) this does not have to contradict the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, her virginity before, during (painless) and after birth, because elsewhere the Scriptures use the pain of childbirth to refer to spiritual suffering, not physical (Rom 8:22; Gal 4:19; 2 Pet 2:8). So the pain of Mary that is referred to here is her anguish as a mother for us her spiritual children.
Later in his vision (not in the first reading) John says he saw the dragon making war on other offspring of the woman (Rev 12:17) but this also does not have to contradict Mary’s perpetual virginity because elsewhere in Scripture the word “offspring” is used for spiritual offspring (e.g. Gal 3:19).
The woman being given the two wings of an eagle (Rev 12:14 not in the first reading) does not mean that the text cannot refer to Mary because it could refer to the sinlessness that she enjoyed from her first moment.
With good reason therefore down through the centuries Popes see the woman as Mary and specifically as Mary the Mother of the Church. Pope Pius X said of the woman of Rev 12,
“Everyone knows that this woman signified the Virgin Mary…”
Mary’s Assumption into heaven, having completed her life while remaining sinless, reminds us, as Pope John Paul II said, that the goal of the Church is heaven. We pray that one day the whole Church may be in heaven pure and holy like Mary in heaven,
“in the Most Holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle.” (Redemptoris Mater §47)
In heaven Mary as Mother of the Church cares for us here on earth, helping us to become more like her son Jesus. Pope John Paul II, quoting Pope Paul VI, stated,
“We believe that the Most Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, the Mother of the Church, carries on in heaven her maternal role with regard to the members of Christ, cooperating in the birth and development of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.”
(Redemptoris Mater §47)
Pope Pius X can therefore say that Mary giving birth in Rev 12
“was the birth of us who, still in exile, are yet to be generated to the perfect charity of God, and to eternal happiness. And the birth pains show the love and desire with which the Virgin from heaven above watches over us, and strives with unwearying prayer to bring about the fulfillment of the number of the elect.”
Mary in heaven
“…by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth…”
(Vatican II Lumen Gentium §62)
Today we give thanks to God for the grace and favor bestowed on Mary in her Assumption body and soul into heaven at the end of her life. It was a fitting reward for her who was the Ark of the Covenant who brought Jesus into the world, a far greater Ark of the Covenant than the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. In heaven Mary continues to intercede for us, helping us to reach the goal of heaven which she enjoys. “…after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus.”
Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now, and at the hour of our death.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More homilies for August 15th - The Assumption of Our Lady
Related: Four Marian Dogmas
First Reading Revelation 12 and Our Lady of Guadalupe 2006