Assumption – Beginning as a Melody in Our Hearts

Assumption of the Virgin, Antonio da Correggio,
1526-1530, Parma Cathedral cupola fresco,
(About this Image)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady
Ephesians 5:15–20
August 15, 2021

This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady. It is so important a feast that it displaces the regularly scheduled Sunday Mass. We will however examine the selection from the Letter to the Ephesians that is read on the Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary time to maintain continuity. Conveniently it falls into two sections which we can review in turn.

The first section speaks of Wisdom.

Watch carefully then how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand
what is the will of the Lord

(Eph 5:15–17)

The church in Ephesus, like most mid-first century Christian churches, was composed of some people born both Jew and others pagan. Paul believed that by Baptism a person ceased to be a pagan but became “grafted” onto Judaism (Rom. 11:17). He, or if written later in the century, a disciple could refer to Christians and Gentiles. One of the means that these communities used to create the Church was Scripture. The Scriptures for them were what we now call the Old Testament. The author of the letter to the Ephesians relies today on his people’s familiarity with the “Wisdom Literature” of the Old Testament. This consisted primarily of the Psalms, Proverbs, and Sirach. Sirach was so important that it was named “Ecclesiasticus” or book of the Church. The author used words such as foolish, wise, ignorance and understand and assumed that his hearers would know their origin and interpret them correctly

Old Testament authors were often very subtle in their analysis of human motivation, but they ultimately saw that people were either wise or foolish: either turned towards or away from God. We can find this rather disconcerting but there is practical wisdom to it. Indeed, the section between last week’s reading and today’s contains:

So do not be associated with them.
For you were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light

(Eph 5:7–8)

This continues for several verses until it ends with our first line “Watch carefully how you live.” The author understands that most of his people, especially those born pagan, were not Christian for long, did not have deep roots in the faith and needed time to grow.

Study however essential is not enough Wisdom is rooted in the experience of God Himself. Thus, we read in the book of Proverbs:

The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

(Prov 9:10)

Those who do not have this experience although they may claim to believe in God with their lips deny him in their hearts

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good

(Ps 14:1)

These experiences built on themselves. If someone lived a good life, it is easier to more intimately connect to God. If one did abominable deeds, then that person would be further cut off from him.

There will always be debate as to whether Paul and his immediate disciples thought the Lord would return in their lifetimes and this was a special time for decision, a crisis in literal sense. They certainly believed that our human daily lives provided an opportunity to choose our way of life and that this required more than simply obeying the law. So must we and this requires the Holy Spirit. We will see in the next section how the author had profound insight and demonstrated exceptional artistry in illustrating this.

And do not get drunk on wine,
in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another (in) psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,
giving thanks always and for everything
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
to God the Father

(Eph 5:18–20)

In the very early days of the Church, potential coverts might be invited to the Eucharist. This would not have been in a temple or even a synagogue. Christian worship was in a home and resembled a pagan Symposium. These were, for us, an odd mixture of philosophical discussion and drinking party.

The author does two things in this passage.

He reminds the people of the evils of drunkenness which can lead to great sin. His audience would have known the lines from Proverbs:

Those who linger late over wine,
those who keep trying mixed wines.
At the last it bites like a serpent,
and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your mind utter perverse things

(Pr 23:30, 32–33)

Yet having made his point he switches to the “Philosophical” element in the symposium. There is the truth which comes from wine, which usually reveals more of ourselves than we wish, but there is also the truth which comes from the Holy Spirit, which reveals the presence of God.

As we perhaps know too well, a person who is filled with alcohol is inspired and moved by it. He or she will do, say and often sing, foolish things. The author today reminds his hearers that Christian worship should inspire and move the Christian as well, not with alcoholic Spirits but with the Holy Spirit. The early Christians were seen to be filled with the Spirit which was misunderstood as drunkenness. Immediately after Pentecost, bystanders remarked: “But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Ac 2:13)

I wonder how often people who visit our parish would find us excessively jubilant. We might seem more snoozing than partying. Yet joy naturally is expressed with our bodies. Song and dance are inherently religious and when lacking a sign of, at very least, tepid worship. The author however astutely notes they must sing out loud for each other, but it must begin as a melody in our hearts. Only then will it express true thanksgiving and gratitude.

Th power of Ephesians derives from connecting the events and problems of our daily life with God’s eternal plan. The gospels tell us that God knows us so well that he has even counted the hairs on our head (Lk 12:7); Ephesians shows us why and how.