Sunday, August 15, 2010

Where Jesus Is, So Too Must Mary Be

The Dormition of the Virgin, Fra Angelico
with Jesus holding the baby Mary in His arms
Convento di San Marco, Firenze

Here is a piece that I wrote as a guest contributor for the blog Runs With Angels . . . Lives With Saints --

When His Holiness Pope Pius XII formally defined the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Munificentissimus Deus (1950), he said that he was doing so at the insistence and petitioning of countless bishops, theologians, and lay faithful. The Pope did not declare anything new in this formal proclamation, and he recounted the long history of belief in the Church in this Marian doctrine. How curious it is, then, that following this long history of belief and the outpouring of requests for a formal declaration, that so many people today would know so little about the doctrine. Were you to ask most Catholics to explain the Assumption of Mary, they most likely would be unable to.

So, what is the "Assumption of Mary," which we celebrate on August 15 in the liturgical calendar?

The Assumption is one of the four major Marian doctrines of the Church, and it is related to and follows from the others, which are: the Immaculate Conception, her Perpetual Virginity, and that she is the Theotókos, the Mother of God. And, like all the Marian doctrines, the Assumption really says more about Jesus Christ than it does about Mary. In Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius provides the formal definition:
we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
If you go to Rome, you can visit the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul at the respective basilicas that bear their names. Their bones have been confirmed to be there. Similarly, you can visit countless other churches or the catecombs or cemeteries, where the relics of saints and the faithful departed may be venerated.

But if you go to Jerusalem, you will not find the Body of Jesus Christ. You can see the tomb where He was placed, but the tomb is empty -- He is not there. Likewise, you can visit Ephesus, where tradition has it that the Holy Mary lived with St. John, and you will not find her body entombed or buried there. There is a place in Jerusalem which claims to have been her tomb, but she is not there either. You will not find the relics of the Blessed Virgin anywhere. Rather, at the the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed into heaven in the entirety of her being -- not merely her spirit went to heaven with her body remaining behind, but she was bodily assumed into heaven.

Why? What reason could there be for the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven?

One reason for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is that, her being "full of grace," just as it was not fitting that the womb who carried the Lord should be stained with Original Sin (hence the Immaculate Conception), so too was it not fitting that that womb, that holy tabernacle, dwelling place of the Lord, should experience the corruption of the grave.

Another reason has to do with the nature of Jesus Christ. As Lord, He is eternal. That is, He transcends temporality and is outside of time, such that, not only do all moments in human history exist simultaneously for Him, but each individual moment exists in perpetuity. Jesus being eternal, from His perspective, just as He is forever on the Cross, so too is He forever in the womb of Mary, Mother of God. (cf. Rev. 12:1-2) Similarly, Jesus, the New Adam, is bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh. His Body is made up entirely of her body. And being "full of grace," Immaculate Mary is forever joined to Christ. Thus, if He is in heaven in the entirety of His being, soul and body, so too must Mary be in heaven in the entirety of her being, soul and body. As Pope John Paul II relates,
"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)."
Moreover, although, like the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption was a unique privilege for Mary, the bodily assumption of Mary points the way to all the faithful in the resurrection of the body.

The entire life of Mary is not only a model, but the model for all of us. Her entire life, not merely her earthly life, but her eternal life is a model as well. In her perpetual virginity, she gave the entirety of herself to God, and it was because the pureness of that love that her relationship with God was not only unitive, but fruitful. In the mystery that is the all-powerful God, who is in need of nothing, choosing to need our help in the work of salvation, Mary, the New Eve, Virgin Mother of God, gave her very body to the Redeemer, without which there would have been no salvation. In her fiat, her loving "Yes," the Handmaid of the Lord intimately carried Jesus within her very self. She clothed Him, fed Him, cared for Him, and followed Him even unto the Cross, where her heart was pierced, but where she also was made a gift to us all as our own "mother."

This same sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and His subsequent Resurrection, which, being eternal, that is, beyond human time, "worked backward" to the very conception of Mary in the womb of her holy mother Anne, so as to preserve her from Original Sin, also "worked forward" to the end of the Virgin's earthly journey, such that she might immediately know the resurrection of the body, rather than her body having to wait to the end of human time for the resurrection. Just as she was our model in her earthly life, so too is the glorified body of Mary, now in the New Jerusalem, our model for eternal life.

She, the Queen of Heaven who is "with child" and "clothed with the sun," is the eschatological destiny for all the faithful. (Rev. 12:1-2) We will not be bodily assumed into heaven, but we do profess a belief in the resurrection of the body. We who "die" in Christ Jesus will rise with Him in His Resurrection. On the last day, the old world will pass away, and those who remain faithful to Him, who are privileged to make themselves clean and pure in the Blood of the Lamb, will be raised up and given glorified bodies, fit to inhabit the New Jerusalem.

That is why the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we celebrate on August 15, is so very important for us. It is more, much more, than some curious honor and privilege granted to the mother of Jesus. Just as at Cana, and now, Mary always points us toward her Son, and so too does her Assumption point us to the Resurrected One and, thus, to our own resurrection.

She is our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
All-powerful and ever-living God, you raised the sinless Virgin Mary, mother of your Son, body and soul to the glory of heaven. May we see heaven as our final goal and come to share her glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns wth you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some questions for you to ponder:
* What significance, if any, is there to the Transfiguration of Jesus, as applied to the Assumption of Mary?
* Death is said to have come into the world because of Original Sin. But because of her Immaculate Conception, Mary was without this stain of sin from the first moment of her existence. So, did Mary actually die before she was bodily assumed into heaven, or was she taken up while still alive?

(See more at Catholic Culture here and here.)

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