The universal Catholic Church celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Friday, Aug. 15. This great feast honors Mary, our Mother and the Mother of the Church. It celebrates Mary being taken up into heaven – assumed, not corrupted in the grave – at the end of her earthly pilgrimage, and of the value of personal holiness life through the journey of life, marked as it is at times by joys and difficulties.

In the first reading of the vigil Mass, the Levites, or priestly people of Israel, carry the ark of God on their shoulders with poles accompanied by joyful music and singing. The presence of God accompanies the chosen people on their journey.

In the Gospel of the Mass during the day, Mary travels quickly across a hilly landscape to visit her cousin Elizabeth, after whose greeting Mary proclaims “the greatness of the Lord” and the love and mercy God lavishes upon His people. This time Mary is an “ark” that will bear God Himself in Jesus.

The images and stories of these readings are not confined to history but come alive in parishes across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia today. August is a time for parish festivals often preceded by Masses with a Marian theme.

Various ethnic groups including Irish, Slovak, Vietnamese and Italian Catholics honor Mary in special ways and with special celebrations. They begin with Mass, and sometimes in the case of Italian parishes or social groups, include a procession with a statue of Mary carried upon shoulders with poles, and end with a joyful community celebration.

The traditions all remind Catholics of how Mary continues to lead us to her Son, Jesus. She accompanies us on our journey through life, which includes its share of troubles: the loss of a job, the longing for distant children, the pain of physical ailments, and so many others. All present us with occasions not for despair but for prayer of Mary’s intercession with God.

She gives meaning to life’s happy times and consolation in sadness because like a mother, she leads us by the hand through it all to our end. Jesus Christ is our strength and our hope in this life whose trials help prepare us for eternity with God in heaven.

The feast of the Assumption points to that final reward for a life of holiness by which, with Mary’s special prayers and unfailing help to merit God’s grace, we may arrive safely in the Father’s home.