Saturday, August 15th, 2020

Of Chastity and Covered Shame: a Sermon for the Assumption

All sin is shameful. Here, we could easily reflect upon the general place and purpose of shame in human life. For now, however, suffice it to say, all sin is accompanied by shame—felt by us either openly or in some less-than-conscious way. Nevertheless, a particular sense of shame often attends sins against chastity. There are reasons for this, too, but which we leave aside for the moment. All the same, not only can this shame be poignant, but it can also be especially persistent, lingering on even after sins have been absolved by the Sacrament of Penance. And this is to say nothing of the psychological scars that can remain impressed upon the soul as well.

Yet we discover the theological origins of this shame in the opening chapters of Sacred Scripture:

And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons.[1]

Sins against chastity are especially apt to remind us of our fundamental nakedness before God. That is, violations of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments directly point to the dignity that was forfeited by our first parents—and they point to the personal continuation of that forfeiture by our own sins. Put in more precise theological terms, sins of unchastity make us to feel the loss of integrity: that is, the gift which Adam and Eve possessed whereby the passions worked together in harmonious action, unaffected by disordered concupiscence. They lost this gift on account of sin, and now all human beings must bear the burden of the loss. To be sure, now that his passions are in disarray, man is inclined to all manner of sin.—But once again, it is unchastity that especially and mysteriously causes him particular difficulty and shame.

Over this sad tale, however, is the shining mystery of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

The second nocturne of the Roman Breviary contains a sermon by St John Damascene (c 675-749). He writes,

Today, the Eden of the New Adam receives the living paradise in which the condemnation was broken, in which the Tree of Life was planted, in which our nakedness was covered.[2]

Sins of unchastity leave man earth-bound and exposed. If such sins are habitual, man becomes in a manner obsessed and chained to pleasure. He cannot raise his eyes to higher things and the heavenly places. On the contrary, all he sees is his own nakedness and that of others. Yet Our Lady is taken up, beyond all the limitations of things merely of this life; beyond all that is tawdry and base. Likewise, under the action of grace, man is capable of transcending even his most shameful misdeeds. In Baptism, his very destiny is to rise above what may tempt him and sully his dignity: the Assumption bids him remember.—Bids him remember his dignity; bids him remember that the mercy and Providence of God are sovereign, not the moral and emotional wreckage that man often produces.

As the Damascene says, the Virgin Mary’s Assumption covers the nakedness of Eve. Sins of unchastity are especially healed under the grace of the Assumption. Thus, shame never needs to have the last word. Little wonder, then, that the introit of today’s Mass speaks of Our Lady being clothed with the sun. She suffers no shame—but she is clothed in grace, and we are all gratitude and hope because of it.


[1] Genesis 3, 7.

[2] From Oratio 2 de Dormitione BMVHodie Eden novi Adam paradisum suscipit animatum, in quo soluta est condemnatio, in quo plantatum est lignum vitæ, in quo operta fuit nostra nuditas. 

{Art credit: detail, altarpiece, The Assumption, after the manner of El Greco; Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo.}

Homilies & Sermons, Our Lady