Yesterday I read an article online titled, “10 Reasons American go to Church — and 9 reasons they don’t.” It wasn’t just for Catholics, but nonetheless as a former journalist and a theologian I found it to be a fascinating read.
One reason included was particularly relevant for today, 31% of go to Church because, “they feel obligated to go.”
Given that the study was for more than just Catholics, and certainly not merely in reference to today’s feast, I suspect that number might be quite a bit higher for those of us gathered here on this holy day of obligation, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This poses for us two questions worthy of consideration:
- Why do we as Catholics have these holy days of obligation to begin with?
- What’s so special about this particular feast, the Assumption?
The key to understanding both of these questions is consistency, or in other words, as the Gospel tells us this evening, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
So why does the Church have this Holy Day of Obligation? The Church’s mission is help us all get to heaven. So she names these holy days, and has other “rules,” not so she can be some sort of evil controlling dictator, but rather so that she can carry our her mission in helping us get to heaven. In that regard she is being true to herself, true to her mission, she is consistent.
It’s easy for us to get busy, especially this week with school starting up again. Even I as the priest can be tempted to point out that there is the Back to School BBQ tonight and a parish council meeting, and can forget what matters most. It’s easy to get distracted from our faith with a wide variety of things that are going on in our personal lives, in our families, and even in our country or world. So many of us have been talking about how with school starting up we can get back to the regular routine. Even Sunday Mass can become a part of our routine to the point that it can begin to seem somewhat empty. So in having these holy days of obligation, while they may appear to be an inconvenience, the Church is consistent in her taking times every so often to interrupt our routine, our schedules, our busyness and remind us of the eternal. Thus the holy day of obligation is not so much a burden, but rather a gift, which throws us off and gives us a chance to remember God, a chance to recalibrate our lives and our priorities.
In the end, the reason the Church has these holy days of obligation is so that we can grow closer to God. Interestingly enough, 81% of respondents to that survey said the reason they went to Church was just that, “to grow closer to God.” For those of you wondering 59% go for the sermons, and it was even less for Catholics.
So regardless of our motivations for showing up, how does the feast of the Assumption help us to grow closer to God? Despite the false critiques, we as Catholics do not believe Mary is God.
Rather, there is an old latin phrase which helps us understand today’s feast. Ad Iesum per Mariam. To Jesus through Mary. Mary’s role is to lead us to Christ, to God.
She is consistent in doing just that, leading us to Jesus, from her very Immaculate Conception, until now her Assumption into heaven. We teach that she was Assumed into heaven because it is consistent with her whole life, conceived and lived in purity, without sin, and pointing us to Christ. She was immaculately conceived, so that her body could give life to Jesus. Throughout her life, she is always accompanying Jesus, and leading us to him. Now as she is assumed into heaven, she once again points to where he is now, where we ought to want to go.
Even today, she brings us here in her name, so that we can receive her Son in the Eucharist. Not just because obligated to do so by the Church, but rather because we want to be closer to God. She wants us to be closer to God. There is no closer we can be to him than to literally receive him into our bodies in the Eucharist. So instead of being inconvenienced or obligated out of guilt this day, we rejoice that we have a Church who is consistent in her teaching in helping us get to heaven and Mary who is consistent in bringing us closer to Christ. Ad Iesum per Mariam.