This evening, we gather to celebrate one of the great feasts of Our Lady, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. In this feast, we commemorate when the Blessed Virgin Mary, born without sin and unstained by sin, was assumed into Heaven. Her body, never touched by the corruption of death, was brought up to Heaven at the moment of her death by Our Lord, and was reunited with her soul in Heaven, where she reigns with God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This feast shows us what our eventual outcome will be at the end of time. After we die, our souls go to Heaven, and our bodies remain in the grave. At the end of time, a new Heaven and new Earth will be created. At that time, our bodies will be resurrected, and our souls will be reunited with our newly resurrected bodies. We will then be living in a new Earth, with Our Lord reigning as our king.
With this Heavenly imagery, the choice of readings today might seem a bit strange. Instead of talking about what Heaven will be like, the first reading shows us King David with the Ark of the Covenant. It becomes clear why this reading was chosen when we look at the readings for tomorrow, the actual feast day of the Assumption. The first reading for tomorrow's Mass comes from the book of Revelation, and shows us an image of Heaven, in which the Ark of the Covenant is seen. After seeing the Ark of the Covenant, St. John says that he sees a woman clothed with the sun. Both the Ark of the Covenant and the woman clothed with the sun are images of Mary.
Why is Mary is seen as Ark of the New Covenant? To begin with, the Ark of the Covenant was the carrier of God's covenant with the Israelite people. It contained a copy of the Mosaic Law, the laws of the covenant between God and the Israelites. It was the most holy object in Israel, because God resided with the Israelite people through this Ark. It was later lost when the region of Judah was conquered by the Babylonian empire approximately 600 years before Jesus' birth.
Mary is seen as the Ark of the New Covenant because she held the second person of the Holy Trinity within herself. Our Lord Jesus Christ, was not merely another human, but fully human and fully divine. The Ark of the Covenant did not literally hold God within it, but Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, received the most unique privilege to carry God the Son within her womb for nine months.
In this evening's Gospel, we hear the woman who calls out, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” Seemingly in contrast to the great honor that Mary received in bearing Our Lord, Jesus replies, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” This is not a denigration of Mary, as some groups of Christians hold, but a re-acclamation. She was blessed because she carried Jesus, but was blessed more so because she heard God's word and responded to it.
As followers of Jesus, we need to follow Mary's example by listening to God's word and responding to it with generosity and love. We need to hear Our Lord calling to us, and say in response, “Yes, Lord, I will follow.” Mary shows us through her life, through her example how we should follow Our Lord, how we should bring ourselves to Him. She gave herself completely to God, literally giving her body to care for Our Lord. She was willing to give everything she had, and was assumed body and soul into Heaven at the end as her reward.
Mary continues to follow Our Lord, and she leads us to him. When we pray to her, when we ask her to intercede on our behalf, through her actions, she is always pointing to Our Lord. We worship Jesus as the second person of the Trinity, but honor Mary very highly as his mother.
May we be willing to give of ourselves to God as completely as Mary did, so that one day we may join her son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Heaven.