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SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (Vigil Mass)

Readings:
1 Chronicles 15:3-4, 15-16; 16:1-2
Psalm 132:6-7, 9-10, 13-14
1 Corinthians 15:54b-57
Luke 11:27-28

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind.  That is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven
The Assumption into heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a Holy Day of Obligation in most years but not in all.  The number of Days of Obligation vary from year to year since the precept to attend Mass is lifted if any of the following days: January 1st (Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God), August 15th (Solemnity of the Assumption), or November 1st (Solemnity of All Saints), fall on a Saturday or a Monday.  However, the faithful are encouraged to attend Mass on the observed day.  On those occasions, Catholic Christians usually celebrated the holy day at the Sunday Vigil Mass.

This Solemnity celebrates the event of the Blessed Virgin Mary's mortal body being taken directly into heaven, concluding the earthly events of her life.  The Virgin Mary's bodily assumption into heaven before she died, or when she was very near death, is a teaching from the earliest years of the Church.  In response to challenges to Mary's Assumption, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven as a dogma (truth) of the Church in 1950 by (see CCC 966).  The Second Vatican Council affirmed this dogma, stating, "... the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things" (Lumen Gentium, 59).  In Heaven, Mary fulfills her rightful role as the reigning Davidic Queen Mother, in Hebrew the Gebirah, who hears the petitions of her son's people (see the document Mary The Queen Mother of the New Davidic Kingdom).

The Solemnity of the Assumption is the Virgin Mary's most important feast.  It is a joyous event because it anticipates the bodily Resurrection of all Christians and presents Mother Mary's particular involvement in the miracle of the Resurrection of her son.  Assumption Day reminds us of the holiness of Creation and of the goodness of God's plan for the redemption of humanity.

The First Reading 1 Chronicles 15:3-4a, 15-16; 16:1-2 ~ David Brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem
3 Then David assembled all Israel in Jerusalem to bring the Ark of the LORD to the place which he had prepared for it.  4 David also called together the sons of Aaron and the Levites...  [...] 15 The Levites bore the Ark of God on their shoulders with poles, as Moses had ordained according to the word of the LORD. 16 David commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their kinsmen as chanters, to play on musical instruments, harps, lyres, and cymbals, to make a loud sound of rejoicing.  [...] 16:1 They brought in the Ark of God and set it within the tent which David had pitched for it.  Then they offered up brunt offerings and peace offerings to God.  2 When David had finished offering up the burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD.

After the Israelites had begun their conquest of the Promised Land, the Ark resided at several places while the conquest continued.  It wasn't until David became Israel's anointed king that he drove the Jebusites out of Jerusalem (2 Sam 4:6-10; 1 Chr 11:4-9), and all of Israel's enemies were defeated.  It was then safe to bring the Ark to Jerusalem to fulfill what God had commanded Moses in Deuteronomy 12:10-14 concerning one place of worship as a "dwelling place for God's name." 

However, David's first attempt to bring the Ark to Jerusalem was unsuccessful because he failed to observe God's commands on how to transport the Ark (Num 4:46, 15; 7:9).  He transported the Ark by an oxen drawn wagon, and when the wagon made the Ark tilt, one of David's soldiers reached out to steady it, placing his hand upon the sacred Ark.  As soon as his "unclean" hands touched the Ark, God struck him, and he died.  This harsh judgment took place because he was not a consecrated Levite and free from sin to safely touch the holy dwelling place of God among His people (2 Sam 6:3-7). 

David became afraid of the power of the Ark and left it for three months in the house of a Gentile named Obed-Edom the Gittite in the hill country of Judah.  When David saw that the LORD blessed Oebd-Edom, his entire family, and all that belonged to him, David went to bring the Ark to the City of David in Jerusalem in a great ceremonial procession (2 Sam 6:11-19).  In his next attempt, David was careful to follow God's instructions for moving the Ark.

In the Old Covenant, the holy Ark of the Covenant was the dwelling place of God's presence with His Covenant people (Ex 25:10-22).  It was the highest or most holy of the altars of Yahweh for three reasons:

  1. It covered the testimony of God contained in the two tablets of the Ten Commandments (Ex 25:21; 40:20).
  2. The glory of Yahweh rested upon it between the wings of the golden cherubim that overshadowed the Ark, making it the earthly throne of God (Ex 25:22).
  3. As the site of the atonement of Israel on the Feast of Atonement (Lev Chapter 16), the Ark became Yahweh's earthly "throne of grace."  God established the doctrine of atonement (Lev 17:11).  The blood of atonement placed on the Mercy Seat of the Ark was the foreshadowing of Christ's act of atonement when He served as both the sinless victim as well as the enthroned King on the earthly Altar and "Mercy seat" of the Cross. 

The Fathers of the Church saw the Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.  They saw to link between the journey of the Ark, the dwelling place of God, to the Judean hill country house of the Gentile Obed-Edom where it remained for three months and the journey of Mary, bearing the Christ in her womb, to Elizabeth's Judean hill country house where she remained for three months (Lk 1:56).  They saw these events as prefiguring God's blessing on the Gentiles through their acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant; see the chart on Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

According to Hebrews 9:4, three objects were placed in the Ark of the Covenant:

  1. The word of God in the Ten Commandments (Ex 40:20).
  2. The pot of manna which was the heavenly bread that fed the children of Israel during their journey to the Promised Land (Ex 16:4-5, 35).
  3. The High Priest Aaron's lifeless wooden staff of authority that bloomed and bore fruit (Num 17:16-26/17:1-11).

The Greek word episkiazo ep-ee-skee-ad'-zo, a derivative of the word skia  (Heb 8:5; 10:1), means "overshadowed" links the Virgin Mary to the Ark of the Covenant.  We find this word in two critically related passages in the Bible: in Exodus 40:34 in the Greek Septuagint translation when God the Holy Spirit took possession of the Ark of the Covenant in the desert Tabernacle, and also in Luke 1:35 when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary.  Also, see the use of this word in the miracle of the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, and Luke 9:34, and again in Acts 5:15.  The Greek word kataskiazein [kat-as-kee-ad-zo] is used, however, in Hebrews 9:5 and means to "overshadow" or "cover," and is also a derivative of skia meaning shade or shadow. 

The Fathers of the Church saw the physical Ark of the Covenant that contained the word of God, the bread from heaven, and the dead branch that came to life as a foreshadow of the Christ.  Just as the Holy Spirit "overshadowed" and took possession of the Ark of the Covenant so too did He "overshadow" and take possession of the womb of the Virgin Mary.  Mary became for the New Covenant people of God the flesh and blood Ark of the Covenant because her womb contained:

"Branch" was a title for the promised Davidic Messiah in Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15, and Zechariah 3:8; 6:12.

In the Virgin Mary's "yes," she humbly submitted herself to God's divine plan, and she became the Ark of the New Covenant.  Her womb was the first Eucharistic tabernacle, and her journey to visit Elizabeth her cousin and later her journey to Bethlehem to give birth to the Christ, became the first Eucharistic processions.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI expressed this dimension of Mary's role in God's divine plan and her meekness in her submission to God in his homily on June 1, 2005: "In a certain way, we can say that her journey was—and we are pleased to highlight this in the Year of the Eucharist—the first Eucharistic procession of history.  Living tabernacle of God-made-flesh, Mary is the Ark of the Covenant in whom the Lord has visited and redeemed His people.  Jesus' presence fills her with the Holy Spirit ... Is not this too the joy of the Church, that incessantly welcomes Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and carries Him to the world with the testimony of assiduous charity permeated by faith and hope?  Yes, to welcome Christ and to take Him to others is the true joy of Christians!  Dear brothers and sisters let us carry on and imitate Mary, a deeply Eucharistic soul, and all our lives will become a Magnificat" (Pope Benedict XVI, June 1, 2005).

THE VIRGIN MARY AS THE ARK OF THE NEW COVENANT
"Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of God dwells. She is 'the dwelling of God [...] with men.'"  CCC#2676
God the Holy Spirit overshadowed and then indwelled the Ark.  The Ark became the dwelling place of the presence of God among His people (Ex 40:34-35). God the Holy Spirit overshadowed and the indwelled Mary.  Mary's womb became the dwelling place of the presence of God among His people (Lk 1:35).
The Ark contained the Ten Commandments (the word of God in stone), a pot of manna, and Aaron's rod that came back to life (Ex 25:16; Dt 10:2, 5; Heb 9:4). The womb of the Virgin contained Jesus: the living Word of God enfleshed, the living bread from heaven, "the Branch" (Messianic title) who would die but come back to life (Lk 1:35).
The Ark traveled to the hill country of Judah to rest in the house of Obed-edom (2 Sam 6:1-11). Mary traveled to the hill country of Judah (Judea) to the home of Elizabeth (Lk 1:39).
Dressed in a priestly ephod, King David approached the Ark and danced and leaped for joy (2 Sam 6:14). John the Baptist, son of a priest who would himself become a priest, leaped for joy in his mother's womb (Elizabeth) at the approach of Mary bearing Christ in her womb (Lk 1:43).
David shouted for joy in the presence of God and the holy Ark (2 Sam 6:15). Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry of joy in the presence God the Son within Mary (Lk 1:42).
David asked, "How is it that the Ark of the Lord comes to me?" (2 Sam 6:9). Elizabeth asked, "Why is this granted unto me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).
The Ark remained in the house of Obed-Edom for three months (2 Sam 6:11). Mary remained in the house of her cousin Elizabeth for three months (Lk 1:56).
God blessed the house of Obed-edom because of the presence of the Ark (2 Sam 6:11). The word "blessed" is used three times in Luke 1:39-45 concerning Mary at Elizabeth's house.
The Ark eventually came to Jerusalem where God revealed His presence and glory in the newly built Temple (2 Sam 6:12; 1 Kng 8:9-11). Mary eventually came to Jerusalem, where she presented God the Son in the Temple (Lk 1:56; 2:21-22).
God made Aaron's rod (later kept in the Ark) return to life, bud, and bear fruit to prove he was the legitimate High Priest (Num 17:8). God resurrected His Son, who had become enfleshed in Mary's womb and born to bring the fruit salvation to all mankind, and upon His Ascension to become the eternal High Priest (Heb 4:14).
When the priests took the Ark outside the Holy of Holies to transport it, they covered the Ark with a blue veil (Num 4:4-6). In Mary's appearances outside of heaven, visionaries testify that she wears a blue veil.
In Revelation 11:19, St. John sees the Ark of the Covenant in heaven in the last verse of chapter 11. In the first verse of Revelation chapter 12, St. John sees Mary in heaven.  It is the same vision Juan Diego saw of Mary in 1531—the Woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon.
Michal E. Hunt, Copyright © 2002; revised 2017

Responsorial Psalm 132:6-7, 9-10, 13-14 ~ The Dwelling Place of God
Response: "Lord, go up to the place of your rest, you and the Ark of your holiness."

6 We have heard of it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of Jaar.  7 Let us enter his dwelling, let us worship at his footstool.
Response:
9 Your priests will be clothed with justice; your faithful will ones shout for joy.  10 For the sake of David your servant, do not reject the plea of your anointed.
Response:
13 Yes, the LORD has chosen Zion; he prefers her for his dwelling.  14 "This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I prefer her."
Response:

Psalm 132 is one of the pilgrimage psalms the people sang on the journey to worship at the Jerusalem Temple.  A pilgrim visiting the Temple in Jerusalem would make supplications like those presented in this psalm.  In the first part, the pilgrim offers a prayer for the Davidic king (verses 1-10).  Then, the second part (verses 11-18) recalls promises God to David and his descendants in the Davidic covenant—especially in verses 11-12 (see 2 Sam chapter 7), and also to Zion—symbolic language for the assembly of God's chosen people (verses 13-14).

Recalling the Ark of the Covenant (the dwelling place of God among His people) on its journey to its final "resting place" in Jerusalem, the psalmist mentions "Ephrathah," the area around Bethlehem, the home of the young David, chosen by God to be Israel's anointed king and the birthplace of David's descendant, Jesus (1 Sam 16:12-13; Mt 1:1).  "The fields of Jaar" (also mentioned in verse 6), was the location of Kiriath-Jearim, the place where the fearful Philistines sent the Ark of the Covenant after its Philistine captivity in 1 Samuel 7:1.

Verses 9-10 petition the Lord God for righteous priests to guide His people, for joyful worshippers, and for the continuation of the Davidic kingship.  A new oracle starts in verses 13-14, recalling the words God spoke to King David's son and successor, King Solomon (cf 1 Kng 8:16; 9:1-5; 2 Chr 6:5-6; 7:11-18), concerning Jerusalem/Zion as the dwelling place of God among His people, 13 Yes, the LORD has chosen Zion; he prefers her for his dwelling. "Zion" is another word for Jerusalem and is also a symbolic name for the faithful covenant people embodied in the Old Covenant Church (see the document http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/ZION.htm).  Christian tradition sees Psalm 132 as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and son of David.  Jesus is the Davidic Messiah promised by the prophets.

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:54b-57 ~ Jesus Has Conquered Death
54b When that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: Death is swallowed up in victory.  55 Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  57 But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Paul concludes chapter 15 of his letter to the Christians at Corinth with words of thanksgiving to God for the merits won by the sacrifice of Christ on the altar of the Cross and by His glorious resurrection.  Jesus achieved victory over humanity's great enemies: sin, death, and the devil.  Dying on the Cross, Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice to God the Father in atonement for all the sins of mankind.  In offering Himself for the sins of the world, Jesus was victorious in conquering the power of Satan as ruler of the earth; it was a power over humanity Satan exercised through the introduction of sin into God's perfect creation.  Christ shares His victory with His faithful elect who will also arise in glory when He returns (2 Thes 4:16).

God predicted death's defeat in Hosea 13:14, Shall I deliver them from the power of the nether world? Shall I redeem them from death?  Where are your plagues O death! Where is your sting, O nether world!  St. Paul alludes to this passage and answers Hosea's question in the sense of the ultimate victory of life over death in the resurrection of the body at the end of the Age when Jesus Christ will return in glory.  It is a victory achieved through the merits of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection.  It may be St. Paul's intention to encourage Hosea's words in the cry of triumph on the lips of the glorified, risen Church. 

Gospel of Luke 11:27-28 ~ The Truly Blessed are the Obedient
27 While Jesus was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed."  28 He replied, "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it."

A woman in the crowd who is impressed with Jesus' wisdom and healing blesses His mother.  What she says is reminiscent of Proverbs 23:25, Let your father and mother have joy; let her who bore you exult.  Do not take Jesus' response as a criticism of His mother (see Lk 8:21).  Rather, Jesus echoes the sentiments of Elizabeth's blessing of Mary in Luke 1:45 and Mary's Canticle in Luke 1:46-48. To understand Jesus point, we need to identify the Virgin Mary's blessing in those passages.  In Elizabeth's blessing of Mary in Luke 1:45, Elizabeth says, "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled," basing Mary's blessing on hearing and believing the angel's announcement of the birth of the Christ.  In the Virgin Mary's canticle of praise to God called the Magnificat, she clearly states that she is blessed because she has believed and submitted herself to the will of God when she says in Luke 1:46-48, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on all ages call me blessed."

Jesus' beatitude does not reject the woman's blessing for His mother; instead, He sets the priority of blessedness in obedience to the will of God.  No living human being so fully exemplifies the depth of Christian obedience and love demonstrated by the Virgin Mary.  She was the first to believe in her Son's divine destiny.  It was at her urging that Jesus made His first public miracle at the wedding at Cana.  She was with Him at the climax of His mission as He suffered and offered His life on the altar of the Cross, and she prayed with the Church awaiting the coming of God the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Mary was the first to "hear the word of God and observe it."  Truly, the Virgin Mary deserves the title "Mother of God," and she deserves the honor and blessing of every generation of believers as, inspired by the Holy Spirit, she prophesied in her prayer, "... behold, from now on all ages call me blessed."

The Virgin Mary's preservation from the corruption of death and her assumption into Heaven is a gift of love from Christ to His mother.  Her bodily presence in the heavenly Sanctuary prefigures our resurrection from the dead after the Second Coming of God the Son when all the righteous will experience victory over the corruption of death by the rejoining of body and spirit and in joining Mary in the eternal beatitude of Heaven.

Catechism References (*indicates Scripture quoted in the citation):
1 Corinthians 15:56 (CCC 602*)
Luke 11:27-28 (CCC 148-9*, 494*, 511)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016; revised 2017