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Bishop Donal launches a 'Year of the Family' in Derry Diocese - Vigil for the Assumption of Mary - Homily

Bishop Donal launches a 'Year of the Family' in Derry Diocese - Vigil for the Assumption of Mary - Homily

In preparation for the World Meeting of Families which will take place in Dublin from 21 - 26 August 2018, the diocese of Derry will celebrate a Year of the Family launched at all the Masses for the Feast of the Assumption (14/15 August 2017).

The Year of the Family will conclude on 8 September 2018, the Feast of Our Lady's Birthday.

The Year of the Family aims:

  • to encourage families to pray together at home,
  • to remind us that the Church is "the family of families" (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia/The Joy of Love, paragraph 87),
  • to help us to grow as diocesan and parish families - communities of faith, hope and love.


The archetypal Catholic prayer is the Rosary. And it is not surprising since the Rosary is an invitation to meditate on the scriptures, using both the biblical Our Father and the Hail Mary, half of which is lifted straight from the Gospel of St Luke. Eighteen of the twenty mysteries are explicitly Gospel scenes – and only the last two, the Assumption and the Coronation are not taken from the New Testament. So on this feast of the Assumption , we might rightly ask ourselves why such a feast is a Holy-day of Obligation – and what it might be saying to us as we prepare for the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) in 12 months time.

Firstly, there is an old Latin saying – lex orandi, lex credenda – which essential means that what we pray is what we believe. Prayer is rooted in our beliefs. The Preface of today's Mass speaks of Mary assumed – as beginning and image of your Church's coming to perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort for your pilgrim people.

Catholic theology has taken very seriously two pieces of revealed scripture. Mary is mother of Jesus, born as a baby in Bethlehem – and, as the Church we are the visible Body of Christ. Mary is thus seen as mother of Christ's body the Church. And our understanding of Mary and the centrality of the Eucharist come together in that our tradition clearly underlines how we receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist and are united in the one body. The Body of Christ, born of Mary, the Body of Christ that is the Church and the Body of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist are intimately linked.

Assumption is not some esoteric feast of Mary alone but of her as one of us, saved through the suffering of her Son on the Cross. As the Preface says, it points to what we are called to become together as Church This is a feast of all of and not just of Mary. What we celebrate for Mary is part of God's dream for all of us

Secondly, if Mary's body was assumed into heaven, the Assumption of Mary says something about the sanctity of our bodies.

Culturally there are many modern questions and crises about the role of our bodies. Are appearances everything? Can I design a perfect body? Is a body with disabilities not worthy of esteem?

A further crisis afflicts our society. We tend to assume that you can separate what we do in the body from who we are as people. Stars may be socially and emotionally irresponsible and behave accordingly – but as long as their music is popular, that is all that matters. The same can apply to political leaders.

Another dangerous teaching is that we should obey whatever our body urges us to do – and that self-restraint is dangerous. But the scriptures teach us that self-control enables us to humanise our animal drives so that they become loving and creative. If, through the power of the Spirit, we do not humanise the instincts we share with the animals, then we risk acting as if we were made in the image and likeness of the duck billed platypus and not of God.

The original sin of Adam and Eve was to believe that they knew better than the Creator and that giving in to their desires was the best way forward. The Book of Genesis tells us to distinguish between wants and needs. Just because I want something does not make it right. Basing human rights on what we want is a dangerous foundation for any society. The Bible narrative makes clear that this has warped human relationships ever since.

The Assumption tells us that my body is part of who I am. I act and communicate in my body – just as Jesus was God with us, the Word made flesh. Marital intimacy is sacred and not a toy to be played about with. My body will be raised up on the last day. The Assumption simply affirms the message of the Resurrection. As our opening prayer says – grant that we may merit to be sharers of her glory as she shared in the glory of the Risen Christ.

Thirdly, Mary suffered much during her lifetime. A sword of sorrow pierced her soul as well. Her Assumption is a clear statement that life here is not as good as it gets!

The current belief is that we have only one life to live - and that we might as well get as much fun as possible. If 'life is too short to say no', or it is true that 'life is short, have an affair', then the only measure of goodness is how much fun I can get for myself.

But if the measure of greatness is how much I have loved, how much I have been prepared to sacrifice to be faithful, how much I have been prepared to pay to provide stability and good example for children – then that is an invitation to heroism and not to poisonous self-indulgence.

We human beings are capable of learning self-control, of humanising our instincts in the service of love. Faithfulness is not a limitation to my fun but an invitation to greatness. St Paul goes as far as to say that the love of husband and wife is an image of the love of Christ for his Church. (Eph 5:21-33). Marriage is a sign, a sacrament of the mystery of God's love. The biblical image of human relationships is a call to greatness here so that we can enjoy the full mystery of divine love hereafter. 

The Assumption is an invitation to believe that we are capable of great things here – but that here is not as good as it gets. We are asked only to be open to God's grace. We do not have to try and be perfect this time – or be re-incarnated to try again. The Lord asks us to be generous to a fault – and to leave the power of the Cross to bridge the gap between what we fail to achieve because of sin and what we can be in God's eyes.

The World Meeting of Families 2018 has as its theme The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World. The national launch takes place on Monday 21st August in Knock, exactly a year before the big celebrations begin in Dublin. The core message is that the idea of family love and faithfulness – so cleared articulated n the scriptures – is good news for human beings. The call to self-giving relationships brings out the best in us – and the promotion of love is a joy for the world.

During the next 12 months – in the diocese and nationally – we will be working on a programme of events to help us all understand and celebrate God's faith in us. The Assumption, the second last of the Rosary's 20 mysteries, is perfectly in harmony with the scriptural teaching that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, that he was raised from the dead, that the Church is his Body and that our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, Mary proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. 

On this feast day, as we start our preparation for WMOF, Mary calls on the Body of Christ to keep doing the same.

+Donal McKeown

St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry

Vigil Mass for the Assumption of Our Lady

14th August 2017

Re-opening of St Mary’s Church, Clonmany

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