Sunday, August 16, 2009

In the Eucharist, We too are Assumed into the Divinity of Christ

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus, August 16, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters:

Yesterday we celebrated the great feast of Mary's Assumption to heaven, and today we read in the Gospel these words of Jesus: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven" (Jn 6,51). One cannot but be struck by this correspondence which revolves around the symbol of "heaven": Mary was "assumed" into the place from where her Son had "descended."

Of course, this language, which is Biblical, expresses figuratively something which can never enter completely into the world of our ideas and our images. But let us stop a moment to reflect: Jesus presents Himself as the "living bread," that is, the nourishment which contains the life of God Himself, and He is able to communicate this to whoever eats of Him, the true food that gives life and truly nourishes us profoundly.

Jesus says: "Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (Jn 6,51). And from whom did the Son of God take "flesh" - His concrete earthly humanity?

He took it from the Virgin Mary. God assumed from her His human body in order to enter into our mortal condition. In turn, at the end of her earthly existence, the body of the Virgin was assumed into heaven by God and made to enter into the celestial condition.

It is a sort of exchange in which God always has the full initiative, but as we have discussed on other occasions, He needed Mary, in a certain sense - He needed the "Yes" of His creature, her flesh, her concrete existence, in order to prepare the material of His sacrifice: His Body and Blood to offer on the Cross as an instrument of eternal life, and in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as spiritual food and drink.

Dear brothers and sisters, what happened to Mary is also valid in other ways that are just as real for every man and woman, because God asks each of us to welcome Him, to place our hearts and bodies at His disposition, our entire existence, our flesh, as the Bible says - so that He may dwell in the world.

He calls us to unite with Him in the Sacrament of Eucharist, bread that is broken for the life of the world, so that together we may constitute the Church, His historical Body. If we say "Yes," as Mary did, then to the degree that we say "Yes," the mysterious exchange also takes place for us and in us: we are assumed into the divinity of Him who assumed our humanity.

The Eucharist is the means, the instrument, for this reciprocal transformation, which always has God as the end and as principal actor: He is the Head and we are the members; He is the vine and we are the shoots. Whoever eats of this Bread and lives in communion with Jesus, allowing Himself to be transformed by Him and in Him, is saved from eternal death: certainly, he will die like everyone, taking part in the mystery of the passion and Cross of Christ, but he is no longer a slave to death, and will rise on the last day to partake of the eternal feast with Mary and all the saints.

This mystery, this feast of God, starts down here: it is a mystery of faith, hope and love, celebrated in life and in liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, and is expressed in fraternal communion and service to our neighbor.

Let us pray to the Blessed Virgin so that she may help us nourish ourselves in faith with the Bread of eternal life in order to experience now on earth the joy of heaven.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Complete Union with Christ - the Assumption of Mary into Heaven

His Holiness Pope John Paul II
General Audience of Wednesday, 9 July 1997

1. The Church’s constant and unanimous Tradition shows how Mary’s Assumption is part of the divine plan and is rooted in her unique sharing in the mission of her Son. In the first millennium sacred authors had already spoken in this way.

Testimonies, not yet fully developed, can be found in St Ambrose, St Epiphanius and Timothy of Jerusalem. St Germanus I of Constantinople (†730) puts these words on Jesus’ lips as he prepares to take his Mother to heaven: “You must be where I am, Mother inseparable from your Son...” (Hom. 3 in Dormitionem, PG 98, 360).

In addition, the same ecclesial Tradition sees the fundamental reason for the Assumption in the divine motherhood.

We find an interesting trace of this conviction in a fifth-century apocryphal account attributed to Pseudo-Melito. The author imagines Christ questioning Peter and the Apostles on the destiny Mary deserved, and this is the reply he received: “Lord, you chose this handmaid of yours to become an immaculate dwelling place for you.... Thus it seemed right to us, your servants, that just as you reign in glory after conquering death, so you should raise your Mother’s body and take her rejoicing with you to heaven” (Transitus Mariae, 16, PG 5, 1238). It can therefore be said that the divine motherhood, which made Mary’s body the immaculate dwelling place of the Lord, was the basis of her glorious destiny.

2. St Germanus maintains in a richly poetic text that it is Jesus’ affection for his Mother which requires Mary to be united with her divine Son in heaven: “Just as a child seeks and desires its mother’s presence and a mother delights in her child’s company, it was fitting that you, whose motherly love for your Son and God leaves no room for doubt, should return to him. And was it not right, in any case, that this God who had a truly filial love for you, should take you into his company?” (Hom. 1 in Dormitionem, PG 98, 347). In another text, the venerable author combines the private aspect of the relationship between Christ and Mary with the saving dimension of her motherhood, maintaining that “the mother of Life should share the dwelling place of Life” (ibid., PG 98, 348).

3. According to some of the Church Fathers, another argument for the privilege of the Assumption is taken from Mary’s sharing in the work of Redemption. St John Damascene underscores the relationship between her participation in the Passion and her glorious destiny: “It was right that she who had seen her Son on the Cross and received the sword of sorrow in the depths of her heart ... should behold this Son seated at the right hand of the Father” (Hom. 2, PG 96, 741). In the light of the paschal mystery, it appears particularly clear that the Mother should also be glorified with her Son after death.

The Second Vatican Council, recalling the mystery of the Assumption in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, draws attention to the privilege of the Immaculate Conception: precisely because she was “preserved free from all stain of original sin” (Lumen gentium, n. 59), Mary could not remain like other human beings in the state of death until the end of the world. The absence of original sin and her perfect holiness from the very first moment of her existence required the full glorification of the body and soul of the Mother of God. 

4. Looking at the mystery of the Blessed Virgin’s Assumption, we can understand the plan of divine Providence plan for humanity: after Christ, the Incarnate Word, Mary is the first human being to achieve the eschatological ideal, anticipating the fullness of happiness promised to the elect through the resurrection of the body.

In the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin we can also see the divine will to advance woman.

In a way analogous to what happened at the beginning of the human race and of salvation history, in God’s plan the eschatological ideal was not to be revealed in an individual, but in a couple. Thus in heavenly glory, beside the risen Christ there is a woman who has been raised up, Mary: the new Adam and the new Eve, the first-fruits of the general resurrection of the bodies of all humanity.

The eschatological conditions of Christ and Mary should not, of course, be put on the same level. Mary, the new Eve, received from Christ, the new Adam, the fullness of grace and heavenly glory, having been raised through the Holy Spirit by the sovereign power of the Son.

Despite their brevity, these notes enable us to show clearly that Mary’s Assumption reveals the nobility and dignity of the human body.

In the face of the profanation and debasement to which modern society frequently subjects the female body, the mystery of the Assumption proclaims the supernatural destiny and dignity of every human body, called by the Lord to become an instrument of holiness and to share in his glory.

Mary entered into glory because she welcomed the Son of God in her virginal womb and in her heart. By looking at her, the Christian learns to discover the value of his own body and to guard it as a temple of God, in expectation of the resurrection

The Assumption, a privilege granted to the Mother of God, thus has immense value for the life and destiny of humanity.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Mystery of the All-Powerful God Needing and Being Dependent on Man

Catechesis of Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, August 12, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters,

The celebration of the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin on Saturday is imminent, and we are in the midst of the year for Priests. Thus, I would like to speak on the nexus between Our Lady and the priesthood.

It is a bond that is profoundly rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation. When God decided to become man in His Son, He needed the free "Yes" of one of His human creatures.

God never acts against our freedom. So something truly extraordinary happened: God became dependent on the freedom to say "Yes" by one of His creatures: He was waiting on this "Yes."

St. Bernard Clairvaux, in one of his homilies, explained dramatically this decisive moment in universal history, when heaven, earth and God awaited what this creature would say. Mary's "Yes" therefore was the door through which God could enter the world and become man. Thus, Mary is really and profoundly involved in the mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation.

And the Incarnation, the Son becoming man, was from the beginning aimed at His self-giving - giving Himself with much love on the Cross, to become bread for the life of the world. Thus, sacrifice, priesthood and the Incarnation go together, and Mary is at the center of this mystery.

Let us go to the Cross.

Jesus, before dying, saw His Mother at the foot of the Cross, and He saw a beloved son. This beloved son was certainly a very important individual, but so much more: he was an example, a prefiguration of all beloved disciples, of all persons called by the Lord to be His "beloved disciple," and consequently, in a special way, of all priests. Jesus says to Mary: "Mother, behold your son" (Jn 19,26). It was a kind of testament: He entrusts His mother to the care of the son, the disciple.

But He also tells the disciple: "Behold your Mother" (Jn 19,27). The Gospel tells us that from this moment, St. John, the beloved disciple, took Mary "into his own home." Thus it is in the Italian translation.

But the Greek text is much more profound, much richer. And we can translate it as: He took Mary into the intimacy of his life, of his being, into the profundity of his being. To take in Mary meant to introduce her into the dynamism of his entire existence - not as an external thing - and into everything that constituted the horizon of his own apostolate.

I think it is therefore understandable how the special relationship of motherhood between Mary and priests constitutes the primary source, the fundamental reason for the favor that she reserves for each priest. Mary favors them for two reasons: because they are most like Jesus, the supreme love of her heart, and because they, like she, are committed to the mission of proclaiming, witnessing and giving Christ to the world. For his own identification with and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary, every priest can and should feel himself to be a truly beloved child of this most elevated and humblest of mothers.

The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look at Mary as the perfect model for their own existence, invoking her as "Mother of the Supreme and Eternal Priest, Queen of the Apostles, Help of all Priests in their ministry." Priests, the Council says, "should therefore venerate and love her with devotion and filial worship" (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis, 18).

The Holy Cure of Ars, whom we particularly commemorate this year, loved to say: "Jesus Christ, after having given us everything that He could possibly give, also wanted us to be heirs to what He held most precious, that is to say, His own Holy Mother" (B. Nodet, Il pensiero e l’anima del Curato d’Ars, Torino 1967, p. 305). This is true for every Christian, for all of us, but especially so, for priests.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary may make all priests, in the face of all the problems of the world today, conform to the image of her son Jesus as dispensers of the inestimable treasure of His love as the Good Shepherd.

Mary, Mother of Priests, pray for us!