The following are edited extracts from Benedict XVI's Assumption homily at the parish church of St Thomas of Villanova in Castel Gandolfo, 15 August 2012.
On 1 November 1950, the Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed as dogma that the Virgin Mary "having ended the course of earthly life, was assumed into heavenly glory in soul and body." This truth of faith was known by the Tradition, affirmed by the Fathers of the Church, and it was above all relevant to the veneration that the Church offered the Mother of Christ.
The apostolic constitution [states] that the dogma is proclaimed "to honour the Son, for the glorification of the Mother and to the joy of the whole Church." In this way what was already celebrated in the worship and devotion of the People of God as the highest and most customary glorification of Mary was expressed in dogmatic form: the act of the proclamation of her Assumption was presented almost as a liturgy of faith.
In Luke's Gospel Mary herself prophetically speaks some words that point in this direction: "From this day forth, all generations shall call me blessed" (1:48). It is a prophecy for the whole history of the Church.
Mary's words tell us that it is a duty of the Church to recall Our Lady's greatness in faith. This solemnity is, then, an invitation to praise God and to look to Our Lady's greatness since we know who God is by gazing about the faces of those who are his.
But why is Mary glorified by the Assumption into heaven? St Luke sees the root of Mary's exaltation and praise in Elizabeth's words: "Blessed is she who believed" (1:45). And the Magnificat is a hymn of faith and love that flows from the heart of the Virgin.
She lived with exemplary fidelity and treasured in the depths of her heart God's words to his people, the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, making them the content of her prayer: in the Magnificat God's Word becomes Mary's word, the light of her path, making her open even to receiving the Word of God made flesh in her womb.
Luke's Gospel passage recalls this presence of God in history and in the very unfolding of events in particular it is a reference to the second Book of Samuel (6:1-5), in which David transports the Ark of the Holy Covenant.
The parallel that the evangelist makes is clear: Mary awaiting the birth of the Son, Jesus, is the Holy Ark. Mary is God's "visit" that brings joy. Zachariah, in his song of praise, will say this explicitly: "Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people" (Luke 1:68).
But we now ask ourselves: what does Mary's Assumption do for our journey, our life? The first answer is: in the Assumption we see that in God there is space for man, God himself is the mansion with many rooms of which Jesus speaks (cf. John 14:2); God is the house of man; in God there is the space of God.
Mary, uniting herself to God, and united with him, does not distance herself from us, she does not enter an unknown galaxy. Those who go to God come near to us because God is near to us, and Mary, united to God, participates in God's presence, which is so close to us, to each one of us.
There is a beautiful line that St Gregory the Great says of St Benedict but which we can also apply to Mary: St Gregory the Great says that heart of St Benedict became so large that the whole of creation was able to enter into this heart.
This is even more true of Mary: Mary, completely united to God, has a heart that is so immense that the whole of creation can enter into this heart. Mary is near, she can hear, she can help, she is near to all of us. There is space for man in God, and God is near, and Mary, united to God, is very near, she has a heart that is great like the heart of God.
But there is another aspect: not only is there space for man in God; in man there is space for God. We also see this in Mary, the Holy Ark that bears the presence of God. In us there is space for God and this presence of God in us – so important for bringing light to the world's sadness, its problems – is realised in faith: in faith we open the gates of our being so that God may enter into us, so that God can be the power that gives a light and a path to our being.
Today there are many things said about a better world in the future. Whether and when this better world will come, we do not know; I do not know. It is certain that a world that distances itself from God does not become better, but worse. Only the presence of God can guarantee a good world too.
But let us leave this aside. One thing, one hope is certain: God awaits us, he attends to us; we are not headed for a void for we are expected. God awaits us and passing to the other world we will find the Mother's goodness, our loved ones, and Eternal Love. God awaits us: this is our great joy and our great hope that is born precisely from this feast. Mary visits us, and she is the joy of our life, and joy is hope.