Coronation of the Virgin, Fra Angelico [Guido di Pietro] (c1395–1455), c.1432; Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Fr Neil’s homily for the Assumption of Our Lady, 15 August 2021

At your right hand stands the Queen in gold of Ophir.¹

The most sacred item in the history of Israel was the Ark of the Covenant. Since the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in 586BC it had been lost to the people of God.

The Revelation of John the Divine unveils some startling news. As he tells of the events in heavens he reveals that the Ark, that most sacred of vessels, bearing the presence of God, is a woman. She is also Queen of Heaven as the royal mother of the Son of David, the Messiah.

The position of the queen is not, as we might expect, the wife of the king. In Israel’s history the position of queen is reserved for the king’s mother. Throughout the books of the Kings and Chronicles this elevated position is marked when a new king is enthroned by also naming his mother. The only time this position seems to have been usurped is in the reign of Ahab, by his wife Jezebel — and that didn’t end well. The role of queen is not a mere decorative position. The queen not only has the ear of her son as intercessor but also carries great authority allowing her to act on the king’s behalf when needed. So if you want the king to hear your request who is the most reliable person to go through? His mother the queen.

In Psalm 45 we hear that “at your right hand stands the Queen in gold of Ophir.”¹ In the court of King Solomon, we glimpse Israel’s traditional arrangement: Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, takes her place at the king’s right hand. “So Bathsheba went to King Solomon… And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. Then she said, ‘I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.’ And the king said to her, ‘Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.'”²

John’s revelation shows us that at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen once again stands at the right hand of the Son of David in the New Jerusalem, in its heavenly glory. This is the fulfilment of what was implicit at the Annunciation when Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”³

All the promises of God uttered through the prophetic traditions are draw together in the words, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, ‘God with us’).”⁴

God has established the promised kingdom in a manner that was beyond human imagining. St Paul clearly speaks of the undoing of the fall of Adam that brought death, as we know it, into the world. Christ and his resurrection is the new Adam who rectifies the mistake of the old. ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’⁵ Each in their proper order — and Our Lady’s enthronement as Queen of Heaven completes the vision of the Kingdom of God in its eternal glory.

To honour Mary as our spiritual Mother and Queen of the Messianic King fulfils the fourth commandment⁶, the will of God, and also honours her Son who is King. To not give her due honour is to disrespect and tarnish the honour given to her Son, the King.

To understand the role of Mary as Queen of Heaven allows a greater knowledge to make our requests through her intercessions for us to Christ. We glimpse this modelling of King and the Queen Mother’s intercession at the wedding at Cana of Galilee⁷. Our Lady makes a request of Christ, her son, who interestingly responds, “My time has not yet come,” meaning “I haven’t yet come into my kingdom,” yet her confidence that he will act is revealed in her saying to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” The surest way to obtain the graces of God is through the intercession of Our Lady.

The Assumption of Our Lady also speaks profoundly about the nature and importance of the body. Mary carried within her womb the Son of God and is the true bodily tabernacle, and so what has borne the divine is not allowed to see corruption. It is also Mary who gave flesh to the Son of Man. Our embodied flesh is so important that God himself becomes incarnate flesh for our salvation.

The great heresy of today is seen at its clearest in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Those working in AI see the body as a rather flawed vehicle for the true self — it is as if the body doesn’t really matter. This thinking has led many to posit that one day we will be able to upload our consciousness to a computer and gain the goal of eternal life without the intervention of the “God myth”. It is why we have seen an upsurge in those who believe the true self is not connected to the body, and that the body may even hinder a true expression of the self.

These bodies of ours, failing as they do as the years go by, are critical to our understanding of self and are the arena in which we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, in joy and wonder. What I do with my body is profoundly important. Mary’s fiat, “Let it be,”⁸ is the offering of her entire self to the will and actions of God. Surely there is nothing more physical and bodily than bearing a baby in the womb and giving birth to a child; or suffering torture and being nailed to a cross? Right at the heart of our salvation is the critical intense interaction of the physical human body in birth, healing, eating, touching, torture, death, resurrection ascension and today’s celebration of Our Lady’s bodily Assumption.

This physicality is so central that in the sacrament of the mass, Christ makes himself present body, soul and divinity for our salvation.

The fact that the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven and crowned with the twelve stars of glory⁹ marks the beginning and perfect image of the Church’s hope of glory and promised coming to perfection. It is a sign of sure hope and comfort to us that one day we, the pilgrim people of God, will also find a place in heavenly glory. What we can be certain of is that the Virgin Mother is there interceding for our salvation and reception of the many graces of God for our sanctification and his glory.

¹ Psalm 45:9
² I Kings 2:19 foll
³ Luke 1:35
⁴ Isaiah 7:14
⁵ I Corinthians 15:22
⁶ “Honour thy father and thy mother”; CCC2196; Exodus 20:12
⁷ John 2
⁸ Luke 1:38
⁹ cf Revelation 12:1