Homily for the Assumption of Mary

Patronal Feast of South Africa

Our Lady Assumed into Heaven

This weekend we celebrate the patronal feast day of South Africa, that of Our Lady of the Assumption. This doctrine, promulgated by Pope Pius XII in 1950, is this: The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.”

Although promulgated in 1950, Mary’s assumption has been believed since apostolic times. Even Martin Luther promoted it. In fact, Christians throughout every generation have believed that at the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.

The 1950’s, as we know too well, was preceded by decades of war, destruction, and death. When Pope Pius XII proclaimed the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption he wished to remind the world: that life is not without meaning; that there is life after death; that the body is sacred; that the human person is not cannon fodder for wars, or wheels in a production line; and that what God has done through Jesus in Mary, he desires to do with each of us too – to lead us, body and soul, to the heart of God.

The great wars of the 20th century required that some of the long-standing well-established hostilities among European peoples be overcome. England and France were for once on the same side, working with other allies too. After the war, the goodwill that remained among these nations provided the opportunity for the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in South Africa by Pius XII in 1951. Previously, the Dutch East Indian Company, and then the English prevented priests from working freely here. As a little side note, the first Mass said in South African was in 1487 at island of the Holy Cross, close to Diaz Cross, near Port Alfred. So, it took from 1487 until 1951 for the church to be established in South Africa.

If we stitch these themes together, we see that from the great wars of Europe emerged the conditions for the establishment of the Catholic Church in South Africa under the patronage of Mary Assumed into heaven.  We can imagine Pope Pius wondering what providence this patronage might have for the people of Southern Africa.

The Catholic church spread rapidly, particular in Lesotho and KwaZulu Natal. Education and medical care for local Africans were the platform for the Church’s missionary efforts. But after only two short years of acceptance, the Church was once more on the back foot.  This is because in 1953, the South African National Government promulgated the Bantu Education Act, seeking to undermine and limit the education of local South Africans. The bishops had to make a choice: stand against the government and risk being expelled, or work within what the government allowed.

But how could the church celebrate the bodily assumption of Our Lady without reverencing her body? And how could we reverence her body without reverencing every body? And so, under the patronage of Our Lady assumed into heave, the Church did what she always does: she stared death and defeat in the face and soldered on under the banner of Christ for the salvation of all.

In 1983, at the height of Apartheid, here in our own city, Marist Brothers school merged with Holy Rosary Convent and Priory High to form Trinity High School on the Holy Rosary property in Central. After the end of apartheid, this school merged again, and in the year 2000 move to the Priory campus where Frs Grant and Michael and Br Simon work on the front line of the Church’s ongoing efforts to evangelise through education, under the patronage of Mary Assumed into heaven, and St Dominic, one of her faithful sons. To this we add our very own St Philip Neri, and the recently canonised St John Henry Newman.

What is the challenge they and we face today? It is another lie of the devil that diminishes the body. This time not because of the colour of one’s skin, though the remnants of this fight remain. The lie is this: that our bodies are ours to do with as we wish.

This happens when we use our bodies as instruments for personal pleasure outside of God’s plan. The hook-up culture out of marriage, and contraception within marriage, supports this faulty view of the body that artificially separates the goods of sexual intercourse, namely, the good of the spouses, and openness to life.

Another manifestation of the lie that our bodies are ours to do with as we wish is the legalisation of abortion. Here, the silent unborn body is disposed of, considering it to have no value. Divorce, another manifestation of the lie, tears families apart, families declared one body by Christ at marriage. And, more recently, our young people are led to believe that the normal discomfort which accompanies bodily changes from childhood to adulthood are an indication that something is wrong. The culture suggests children consider irreversible medical intervention to reform their bodies according to how they feel. Just as we can have nothing to do with racism, we can have nothing to do with these manifestations of evil that reject God’s rule over the body.

How can we align ourselves with God on these issues? One way is to reverence the body of Christ. Here, at this altar, God offers his body and blood to us. We offer him our bodies too: when we genuflect, bow our head at the name of Jesus and Mary, when we bow in reference to the incarnation at the Angelus and during the creed, when we reverently and devoutly receive the body of Christ into our body. God desires to enter so intimately into our lives to lead us, body and soul, to where he has lead Mary, the heart of God.

May Our Lady assumed into heaven pray for us, our families, and our country, that we might share one day with her, body and soul, in heavenly glory.