There is a hierarchy given to the liturgical celebrations of the Church that take place throughout each year. In the liturgical life of the Church, we celebrate memorials, feasts and solemnities.
The rank of solemnity is the highest rank for a liturgical celebration in the Church’s liturgical year. A partial listing of the Church’s solemnities would include: every day of Easter week; Christmas Day; All Saints’ Day; St. Joseph’s Day; the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul; the Immaculate Conception of Mary; Mary, Mother of God and the Assumption of Mary. These are important celebrations in the life of the faith family that is the Church.
When something significant in the life of a family is being recalled and celebrated, it is hoped and expected that the family members will joyfully be present for the celebration. In a similar manner, all of these solemnities are important and some of them are so important to our life and understanding of faith and the Church that we are “obligated” to attend Mass on that day.
These celebrations are known as “holy days of obligation” since they celebrate something so important that we are expected and have an obligation to gather with the family of the Church at Mass on that day to celebrate and recall the mystery that is the focus of our prayer and faith on that day.
With the exception of Christmas Day and the Immaculate Conception (under which title Mary serves as patroness of the United States), when a solemnity that is a holy day of obligation falls on a Saturday or a Monday, the normative obligation to attend Mass on that day is rescinded.
However, the Church nonetheless invites all of the faithful to the Eucharist on all of these solemnities as we recall and celebrate these mysteries of our salvation. Something significant is being celebrated, and so we should indeed gather at Mass with our faith family every Sunday as well as on these special holy days of obligation throughout the year.
We welcome again the month of August and the ongoing heat of the summer months. Looking at August from the perspective of our faith, the celebration of the Assumption of Mary each year on Aug. 15 is the solemnity that clearly dominates the month of August. The Assumption of Mary celebrates our belief as Roman Catholics that when Mary’s earthly life was finished, because of the special role she had played in bringing the Messiah to birth, she was assumed, or taken up, body and soul into heaven.
Notice that the language used in speaking of this event with regard to Mary is passive. Whereas Jesus ascended into heaven of his own power (the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus), in contrast Mary was assumed into heaven, or was taken into heaven by God (the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary).
The passive language used with regard to Mary conveys the fact that this is not something that Mary accomplished of her own power, but is something accomplished for her by the power of Jesus Christ, her divine son. Because of the special relationship that existed between Mary and Jesus, through the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, Mary was given at the end of her life that which God has promised to each one of us who is faithful to him: to enter body and soul into heaven.
Mary is the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus Christ. She remained close to Jesus during his life, and near to him at the time of his death. As we turn to her and ask her intercession for us before Jesus her Son, may her words to the stewards at the wedding feast at Cana always be before us: “Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you.”
So in celebrating this Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, we are ultimately celebrating how the love of God and the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection were reflected in the life of Mary and how we too are called to live our lives in such a manner that God’s promises to us of a similar assumption into heaven will also be fulfilled for each one of us. Since our cathedral church is dedicated to Mary under the title of her Assumption, this is a special solemnity in our archdiocese.
August also ushers in the beginning of a new academic school year and a new year for catechetical formation for our children, youth, young adults and adults. Let us pray that this will be a good school year and a good catechetical year for all who teach and receive the faith.
I hope and pray that as this year unfolds, all of us through our faith practices and prayer will find our relationship with the Lord Jesus deepen with the passing of each day. In her glorious Assumption, may Mary, the Mother of God, intercede for us and assist us in our efforts to be true to her Son!