Today's feast celebrates Mary's Assumption into heaven. It is one of three feasts of Mary that are Holy Days of Obligation for Catholics in the United States. January 1 is the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, and December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven has long been held as an important Catholic belief. The belief was not defined as dogma, however, until 1950 by Pope Pius XII. The dogma teaches that Mary, who was without sin, was taken, body and soul, into the glory of heaven.
The Gospel for this holy day recalls Mary's actions after the announcement of Jesus' birth by the Angel Gabriel. Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is also with child. Elizabeth greets Mary with full recognition of the roles they and their unborn children will play in God's plan for salvation. Mary responds to Elizabeth's greeting with her song of praise, the Magnificat. Both women recall and echo God's history of showing favor upon the people of Israel. Mary's Magnificat, in particular, echoes the song of praise offered by Hannah, the mother of Samuel.
The Gospel for this day reminds us that Mary's Assumption into heaven is best understood with regard for the full spectrum of Catholic beliefs about the person of Christ and the person of Mary. Only Mary, who was born without stain of original sin—the Immaculate Conception—could give birth to Christ, who is fully God and fully human. This is called the Immaculate Conception. Because of Mary's role in God's plan of salvation, she does not suffer from the effects of sin, which are death and decay. Mary is the first to receive the fullness of the redemption that her son has won for all of humanity. The Church, therefore, recognizes Mary as the sign of the salvation promised to all.
Today's Gospel highlights Mary's faith. Mary's faith enabled her to recognize the work of God in her people's history and in her own life. Her openness to God allowed God to work through her so that salvation might come to all. Mary is a model and symbol of the Church. May we be like Mary, open and cooperative in God's plan of salvation.
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