17th August, 2020

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Ampleforth Abbey


15 AUGUST 2020


I welcome you all to Mass today on this solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven. I am Fr Gabriel. May we all be blessed in our celebration of Mass today and come to share in the glory of Mary, who rejoices with God.


Today’s feast of the Assumption takes us – Mary body and soul and we together with her, in spirit and in hope - into heaven. Mary’s Assumption, viewed in the light of the second reading, from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 is part of the resurrection of Christ and of his body, the Church. There is a proper order, says St Paul: it is Christ as the first fruits and then after the second coming of Christ, those who belong to him. Mary’s Assumption is an anticipation of this final fulfilment, a further promise and guarantee before the second coming of Christ, that we too will be raised body and soul, in our human entirety, like a seed producing its flower in the life to come, in the new heaven and the new earth.

In the Gospel, meanwhile, we are back at the beginning of the story of salvation as St Luke tells it. Mary is a young girl with a most startling message from an angel. She is to conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear a son to be named Jesus, son of the Most High. Meanwhile her cousin Elizabeth has conceived in old age and is now in her sixth month.

It is at this point, as our Gospel today begins, that Mary sets out to visit Elizabeth in her home in the hill country of Judah. It is a human story of encounter and companionship in a homely place. It leads Mary to her song of the Magnificat, which in turn is sung down the ages and is every day in our Vespers. This is a hymn, which points out the disposition which is in Mary’s heart and which we seek to have in ours as we celebrate this feast.

Mary begins with thanksgiving and exults in God her Saviour; she knows herself, by comparison, to be God’s lowly servant. Her song indeed is of the lowly, the God fearing, the hungry raised up. It is in and because of this humility in the context of joyful praise and thanksgiving, that Mary is chosen by God, conceived without stain of sin and raised up body and soul to heaven at the end of her earthly life, to be an anticipation of the resurrection of all the just, to be the one in heaven, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, with twelve stars for a crown.

It is a raising up for which we hope and pray and for which we must take the same path of humility. St Benedict has it thus towards the beginning of chapter 7 of the Rule: ‘if we want to reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily that exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, then by our ascending action we must set up that ladder on which Jacob saw angels descending and ascending. Without doubt this descent and ascent can signify only that we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility. Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and if we humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven’ (RB7:5-9).

Mary travels joyfully to Elizabeth’s home in the hill country, her heart lowly but full of thanksgiving and praise. We venerate Mary as mother of monks and mother of the Church. Her focus, her faith, her hope is in God not in herself, so the Lord raises her joyfully to heaven to her true home in the true hill country, where there will be the most wonderful fellowship, where she can sing her hymn of thanksgiving and praise. Aided by her prayers, may our faith and hope, our thanksgiving, likewise raise us up to God.