Every year on 15th of August, the Catholic Church throughout the world joyfully celebrates and observes the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven. When her life on earth came to an end, she was assumed into heaven by God because of her special and unique role and position in the history of our salvation as the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So the Church celebrates her Assumption with joy and gratitude to God for this singular privilege and honour he conferred on Mary who is also the Mother of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. In our country The Gambia, we Catholics, believers in Christ, our Muslim brothers and sisters, believers of other faiths, and Gambians abroad joyfully look forward to the feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven that is popularly known as Sang Marie. We diligently and reverently prepare ourselves for this feast day when we render proper and due honor and devotion to Mary, the Mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her Assumption is, therefore, a very important and memorable day for us and there are good reasons why it is one of Mary’s greatest feasts that is publicly and joyfully celebrated worldwide, especially, in our country, The Gambia.
The Assumption of Mary into heaven without experiencing corruption of sin and death is ultimately one of the greatest solemnities of Mary’s thirteen (13) feasts in the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar of the year. No one else but the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul without experiencing the corruption of the grave. Her assumption was, therefore, one of the supreme wonders God worked for Mary, his humble and lowly handmaid. Secondly, the Assumption of Mary into heaven is a Dogma of faith, that is, a divinely revealed truth that must be accepted, proclaimed, and celebrated by all members of the Catholic Church. It is not, for that reason, an ordinary magisterial teaching or human declaration and invention in the history of the Church. Our celebration of Mary’s Assumption is, therefore, in accordance with the Scriptures, Tradition, and the Liturgy of the Church that are the sources of divine revelation for us. It is not, in that sense, an optional celebration and article of faith that the Church proposes or recommends to its members.
For us in The Gambia, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is the patron feast of the Catholic Diocese of Banjul, The Gambia. For, the mother Church of all churches and parishes in our country, namely, the Cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. The feast is, therefore, a Diocesan feast for all the members of the Diocese at home and abroad. It is, in that sense, the principal and greatest occasion of all Diocesan celebrations in the year. Other Christians and non-Christians alike also observe the feast of Mary’s Assumption based on their faith convictions and their affinity to places that are named and dedicated to her. They too appreciate and share our joy and celebration of this feast of our Diocese. Finally, Sang Marie is celebrated in The Gambia and beyond because we believe she is in the position following her Assumption into heaven to intercede for us before her Son Jesus Christ. These reasons explain why we joyfully and publicly celebrate Mary’s Assumption into heaven. They should equally inspire and motivate us to continuously foster and strengthen our common bonds of unity and mutual respect as citizens of our beloved country, The Gambia whose capital city is established on St. Mary’s Island.
As the Mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Mary is the closest and dearest person to Jesus. She is, therefore, in a unique and privileged position among all the angels, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and all the saints in heaven to intercede for us and plead our cause before her Son. We should, consequently, be grateful to God that Mary is the principal patron saint of our Cathedral and the Catholic Diocese of Banjul as a whole. At the same time, dedicate and entrust ourselves, our families, Diocese, and country to her and invoke her maternal intercession for God’s blessings, generosity, guidance, and protection in our daily lives. We should renew and deepen our private, public, and collective devotions and petitions to Mary, especially, when we are faced with difficulties and uncertainty in our lives. So on this day we celebrate Mary’s Assumption into heaven, we should fully accept God’s will in our lives following her example of total obedience to God. For, God can equally work wonders and raise us beyond our weakness, fears, and disappointments the same way he assumed Mary body and soul into heaven by the power of his right hand. The Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption should, therefore, assure us that nothing is impossible with God and it is always God’s power, goodness, mercy, and compassion that prevail in the end over evil, hatred, conflict, sin, and death.
When Mary expressed her faith, gratitude, and praise to God in the Magnificat in Lk. 1:46-55, she said, “the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name … He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud- hearted. He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly. He fills the starving with good things, the rich he sends away empty.” She fully acknowledged what God has done for her and his assistance, goodness, and generousity to those who are poor, powerless, and humble among God’s chosen people. God directly intervened in their lives, reversed their human and social status, and restored their life and dignity as his sons and daughters. So Mary strongly believed that God never disappoints those who entrust themselves to him; that God always responds to the needs and petitions of those who depend on him and place their hopes in him. If we also rely on God in our various conditions and status in life instead of relying on our ability, power, competence, and fortune, God will equally raise us beyond our weakness and limitations and deliver us from all our problems, fears, and disappointments in life.
In the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” that is, Lumen Gentium nos. 68, the Second Vatican Council declared that “until the Day of the Lord comes, Mary shines forth on earth as a sign of sure hope and comfort to God’s pilgrim people.” This statement is also reiterated in the Preface of the Mass of the Assumption. We should carefully reflect and also be guided by these words of the Preface that “the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven to be the beginning and image of the Church in its perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort for God’s people on their pilgrim way.” For, we share the same heavenly destiny with Mary as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church because she was a believer and faithful follower of Christ like us. We should, therefore, be motivated and inspired by Mary’s Assumption. For, we too will attain our heavenly reward and glory if we obey God’s Word and allow God’s will to be done in our lives as Mary cooperated with God’s plan of salvation and was assumed into heaven. So we should truly consider Mary the cause of our joy and hope of seeing God face to face in the company of all the saints in heaven.
As the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Banjul, I wish all the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, the lay faithful of the Diocese at home and abroad, our dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Muslim friends and relatives and Gambians of all religious beliefs a peaceful, delightful, meaningful, and fulfilling celebration of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. I conclude with the Prayer to Mary, Our Mother of Mercy written by St. Augustine of Hippo: “Blessed Virgin Mary, who can worthily repay you with praise and thanks for having rescued a fallen world by your generous consent! Receive our gratitude, and by your prayers obtain the pardon of our sins. Take our prayers into the sanctuary of heaven and enable them to make our peace with God.
Holy Mary, help the miserable, strengthen the discouraged, comfort the sorrowful, pray for your people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God. May all who venerate you feel now your help and protection. Be ready to help us when we pray, and bring back to us the answers to our prayers. Make it your continual concern to pray for the people of God, for you were blessed by God and were made worthy to bear the Redeemer of the world, who lives and reigns forever.” Our Lady of the Assumption pray for us to attain the spirit of love, reverence, fear of God, honesty, peace, stability, patriotism, and progress in The Gambia our homeland. Amen!
Your Servant in Christ,
Most Rev. Dr. Gabriel Mendy, C.S.Sp.