August 15, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Assumption
Reading I (Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 15:20-27)
Gospel (St. Luke 1:39-56)
In the first reading today from the Book of Revelation, we hear the words that God’s temple in heaven was opened and in it could be seen the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was the single most holy piece that the Israelites possessed. It was the mercy seat of God. It was the place where the two tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept. It was placed in the Holy of Holies in the temple, the place where only the high priest could go, and only once per year could he enter there. The Ark had not been seen at the time that Saint John received his revelation for over seven hundred years, from the time that the people of Israel went into exile at the time of the prophet Jeremiah. The prophet, we are told in the Second Book of Maccabees, took the Ark of the Covenant and went up on Mount Nebo. There he placed it in a cave and filled in the cave with stones, and he prophesied that it will not be seen again until God gathers all of His people together. Then the glory cloud will be seen, and, at that point, a revelation will be given to someone to be able to know exactly where to find the ark.
So, knowing that no one had seen the Ark of the Covenant for seven hundred years, now suddenly Saint John has a vision in which he saw the Ark of the Covenant. It was a vision very much like the vision of Moses, who saw the temple in heaven, who saw the worship of God, and he was told that he was to make a copy of everything he had seen. The very first thing that Moses would have noticed in the temple of God, besides God Himself, was the ark. And so when he made the ark, God told him exactly how it was supposed to be made. It was made of acacia wood. It was overlaid with pure gold and had two cherubim on the top. And that was the place in Israel where God was seated, the throne where God Himself dwelt among His people.
Well, several thousand years after Moses had his vision, God sent His ark into the world. In this ark, the New Covenant was placed. In this ark, God found the perfect throne to be enthroned among His people. In this ark, we will find the mercy seat; we will find the place where God Himself has chosen to dwell among His people. And Saint John describes exactly what the ark looks like: A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars, and she is wailing aloud in pain as she labors to give birth. The covenant who was inside of this woman is none other than our Blessed Lord, of Whom the prophet Isaiah tells us in the 42nd and 49th chapter that the Messiah is the Covenant. The Old Covenant was written on stone. The New Covenant is a Person, living, and more importantly, loving. We are drawn into this Covenant, indeed we are baptized into this Covenant, and we become members of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we share in the same glory that Our Lady experienced. We are made members of the Covenant, which means that we, like Our Lord, have the joy of being able to dwell somehow within Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. And, like Our Lady, we have the joy of being able to carry the Covenant within our own selves because every time that we receive Holy Communion we renew that commitment we made to Our Lord on the day we were baptized. We receive the Covenant literally into our own self and we carry Him in a manner similar to the way that Our Lady did.
Today, as we celebrate her glorious Assumption into heaven, we recall that she was taken body and soul – the fullness of her humanity – into the glory of heaven. That is exactly what Saint John saw. He saw that in God’s temple in heaven, there in the Holy of Holies, the place where only the high priest can enter (and Jesus, Saint Paul tells us in his Letter to the Hebrews, is our High Priest Who has entered into the Holy of Holies in heaven; He has opened the way so that Saint John would be able to see this vision), is the ark. The ark is the holiest, most exalted, and most revered creature that God has ever made and that He ever will make. It is in this Holy of Holies that God Himself has chosen to reside even now because Our Blessed Lady’s Immaculate Heart is the single highest and most perfect creation that God has made. In the Old Testament, we know that God was enthroned upon the cherubim because the angels were the highest creatures in heaven. They were the ones who gave Him the most glory, and they were the ones who loved Him the most. But Our Lady is the queen of the angels, and the angels serve her. And because there is now in heaven someone who is even higher than the angels, someone who loves God more than the angels, and someone who gives God more perfect worship than the angels, God is now enthroned within her Immaculate Heart, the most perfect created place in the universe, the highest place in all of the heavens. It is there that God has chosen to dwell.
So when we read, for instance, in the second reading that the Lord is going to destroy death but it is going to be the very last thing destroyed, in the meantime there is a certain order to the way that things have to work. Christ has to be the first fruits of the new creation and everything else will follow in proper order. Because Our Lady is next in line behind Our Lord, she has now been taken body and soul; in her, death has been destroyed. Like Our Lord, of Whom Saint Paul says after He had risen from the dead that death has no more power over Him, the same is completely true of Our Lady. For all of the other saints whose souls are in heaven, their bodies still lie in death. Death still has some power over them, not in the spiritual sense, but in the physical way. On the day of the resurrection, death will be destroyed forever and our bodies will rise and will be reunited with our souls. As we enter into death, we enter physically; but because of our baptism, death has no power over us spiritually as long as we are in the state of grace. Our bodies, of course, give way to the reality of death. But on that last day of the world, on the day that death is destroyed forever, our bodies are going to rise and they will share in the glory of our souls; and, like Our Lady, we too will be assumed both body and soul into heaven.
But right now among humanity, she alone, we are able to say, is there. There are two others who have not died, Enoch and Elijah, but they will be coming back and they will die. So, for them, it is not that they are in the fullness of heaven; they are in a place of glory, but not the fullness of heaven as yet because they have not yet tasted death to be able to enter into life. But Our Lady, perfectly united with Our Lord in all things, has entered through the gates of death that were broken through by her Son, and because of her perfect love, because of her absolute sinlessness, because of the fact that the devil never had any authority over her even for one split-second of her life, so too neither did death have authority over her. That is why her body could rise along with her soul. She already experiences in her body the fullness of the resurrection. And she experiences in the fullness of her person, unlike any of the saints, the fullness of life in heaven because she is experiencing life in the fullness of her humanity both body and soul.
One of the things that oftentimes happens when someone dies is that those who remain think often about the question of whether or not this person is in heaven. They can think about all the good things and the possibilities and why it is probably fitting that the person has gone the right way, but then they can think about some other things and then they doubt and they wonder. What a wonderful thing to know that our Mother is in heaven, and not like anybody else in heaven but in the fullness of her humanity, that she is untouched by death, that she has risen victorious with our Blessed Lord, that she has crushed the head of the devil – and that she is praying for us, that she is right there in the Holy of Holies with our High Priest Who stands before the throne of the Father making intercession for us, and that she is there with Him, and, in fact, that He is there within her praying for us in her Immaculate Heart to the Father to have mercy on us. That is the glory that is ours.
Indeed, Our Lady’s words in her Magnificat that all generations would call her blessed ring true in every single generation for the last 2,000 years. And for all eternity the same glory will be given to her because, of all the human creatures that God has made, there is none more blessed than she. There are none who are more holy, there are none who are more exalted, there are none who deserve the grace and the glory of God more than she, and God has blessed her beyond any other human person. While it would certainly be a glorious thing to be able to believe in this from an arm’s distance, to look at it theoretically and say, “Praise God that one person has done it right!” how much more glorious it is that we can say that this is our Mother who has done this, that she is united with us. She is not someone who is at an arm’s distance. It is not something that we have to look at merely in a theoretical way, but our own Mother, the one who bore us in her Immaculate Heart, is now in heaven assuming the highest place that God has made for any creature and giving Him the greatest glory; in fact, she gives Him more glory in heaven than all the angels and all the saints combined – and she is our Mother – with her heart wide open to us, desiring for us to be able to enter into the glory of heaven with her so we can give God that glory.
We can begin even now. In her life on earth, she gave God glory at every moment. And when she received the greatest gift of the Incarnation of the Word of God in her immaculate womb, she, as the Ark of the Covenant, carried Him and presented Him in the temple, loved Him and nurtured Him. You have the same opportunity. You will receive Jesus Christ into yourself in just a few moments, and within you – in your body, in your soul, in your heart – the glory of God will reside. If you are in the state of grace, the Most Holy Trinity dwells within you 24 hours a day, so heaven has come to you until the day that you can go to heaven. In the meantime, in this world each one of us is called to be a new ark of the covenant, to bring God out into the world, to be able to love Him and worship Him and glorify Him along with our Blessed Lady, to be able to prepare ourselves for the day when what has been fulfilled in Our Lady will also be fulfilled in us: that death will be destroyed, that it will have no more power over us, that on the glorious day of the resurrection we will be able to be in heaven both body and soul, and that in the fullness of our humanity, like Our Lady, we will glorify God for all eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.