The Assumption of Mary August 15, 2008

Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a; 10ab; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56

According to Roman Catholic theology and Catechism, the Virgin Mary, “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”  This means that Mary was transported into Heaven with her body and soul united. The feast day recognizing Mary’s passage into Heaven is celebrated as The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics. This doctrine was dogmatically and infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on 1 November 1950 in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus. The Assumption of Mary into heaven is also taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Oriental and Coptic Orthodox Churches. That belief was ancient, dating back to the apostles themselves. What was clear from the beginning was that there were no relics of Mary to be venerated, and that an empty tomb stood on the edge of Jerusalem near the site of her death. The Assumption completes God’s work in her since it was not fitting that the flesh that had given life to God himself should ever undergo corruption. The Assumption is God’s crowning of His work as Mary ends her earthly life and enters eternity. The feast turns our eyes in that direction, where we will follow when our earthly life is over.

Today’s feast celebrates the special place that Mary has in the life of the Church. This place is first of all defined by her being chosen to be the mother of Jesus, his only human parent. This alone gives her a uniqueness which is shared by no other person who has ever lived.   As with the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to look at the meaning of what the feast is about rather than being too literal in our understanding of how it is described. It is probably not helpful to try to imagine that, as soon as Mary’s dead body was laid in the grave, it immediately as it were escaped from its earthly darkness and floated up “body and soul” into “heaven”. By using the image “assumed body and soul into heaven” what is really being said is that Mary, because of the dignity of her motherhood and her own personal submission to God’s will at every stage of her life, takes precedence over everyone in the sharing of God’s glory which is the destiny of all of us who die united with Christ her Son.

We see the readings of today.  The Gospel is the story of Mary’s visitation to her cousin, Elizabeth, when both had experience God’s hand in their life.  Mary sets out with haste from Nazareth to a small town in the hills of Judea, not far from Jerusalem to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the child. Mary herself, of course, is carrying her own child, Jesus. It is highly significant that it is Mary and Jesus who go to visit Elizabeth and John.  At the presence of Jesus and his mother, the child in Elizabeth’s womb jumps for joy.

Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, excitedly bursts out into praise.  “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  This is the prayer we often repeat.  Mary is indeed unique and blessed and is specially chosen to be the mother of God.  Elizabeth is deeply moved that it is Jesus and his Mother have come to her house and expresses her gratitude. There is a special word of praise for Mary recognizing her faith and total trust in God. The words at the Annunciation, your will be done are fulfilled now. It is now Mary’s turn to sing God’s praises in the lovely song we called the Magnificat. In this hymn Mary speaks of the three revolutions: the economic revolution where the rich are thrown down and poor are exalted; the social revolution where powerful are thrown down and lowly are raised up; and a moral revolution where the proud are scattered and humble are reinstated.

From the reading of the Book of Revelation, we heard that there is a woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. This is indirectly expressed in the Second Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians where Paul is speaking of the resurrection of Christ as crucial to the validity of our Christian faith. And Christ, the Son of God made flesh, who died on the cross is indeed the very first among the risen, seated at the right hand of his Father. He is, in Paul’s words, “the first fruits of those who have died”.

In the Bible, there is no evidence that Mary every received the Sacrament of Baptism as Jesus did. This leads us to believe that since she already enjoyed the newly created heart and spirit from the moment of her conception, there was no need for her to be baptized in order to receive the gifts of God that would free her from original sin. Created immaculate, there were no traces of original sin within her. Mary’s greatness does not stop at the graces and privileges which were showered on her. These, after all, were purely passive in the sense they were gifts given to her. Mary’s greatness was not just in being chosen to be Jesus’ mother but in her total acceptance of that responsibility in faith and trust, accepting blindly all that it might entail.

Today we join Mary in her happiness. We look forward to the day when we too can share it with her. In the meantime, we ask her to remember us as we continue our journey on earth and to intercede for us with her Son that, like her, we may remain faithful to our call as faithful disciples. May we know God’s will for us at all times and, like Mary, say our unconditional Yes to what he wants for us.

“For the Virgin Mary to be totally free of all traces of original sin, the threefold incorruption that we will one day receive, of body, soul and spirit had to already be present in her.

Senior moment: A self-important college freshman attending a recent football game took it upon himself to explain to a senior citizen sitting next to him why it was impossible for the older generation to understand his generation.  ‘You grew up in a different world, actually an almost primitive one’, the student said, loud enough for many of those nearby to hear. ‘The young people of today grew up with television, jet planes, space travel, man walking on the moon. Our space probes have visited Mars. We have nuclear energy, ships and electric and hydrogen cars, cell phones, and computers with light-speed processing…and more.’     After a brief silence, the senior citizen responded:

‘You’re right, son. We didn’t have those things when we were young…… we invented them. Now, what are you doing for the next generation?’  The applause was amazing……. 


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