C Cycle – Feast of the Assumption 19
Lk. 1: 39-56
During my formation classes we had a professor ask the class one day if anyone could explain the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. A classmate replies, yeah, that’s the doctrine whereby the Catholic Church ‘assumes’ that Mary is in heaven.” I thought the professor was going to have a heart attack because There’s a bit more to the dogma of the Assumption than that. The Church does not just “assume” that any canonized saint in is in heaven. Rather, it authoritatively declares that a person is in glory and should therefore be honored in liturgy and imitated in life. Our church calendar is filled with saints’ days.
But why designate a specific day for each saint and specifically Mary? The first evidence for this “practice of honoring specific individuals” goes back to 155AD, and a bishop named Polycarp. The account of his martyrdom notes that after his execution, the faithful collected his bones, more precious than gold, and put them in a place of honor where every year they gathered to celebrate the anniversary of his death as a sort of “birthday” into eternal life. Celebrating Mass in the catacombs over the relics of the martyrs’ led to the practice of putting relics in the main altar of every church. Eventually saints who did not die a martyr’s death were also commemorated on their heavenly “birthday” and their relics were accorded great honor.
From very early tradition of followers of Jesus, August 15 has been observed as the “birthday” of our Blessed Lady’s Assumption into heaven. On this greatest of all Marian feasts we celebrate the moment of her life when she was permanently re-united with her son and sharing his glory.
All the saints experience the “beatific vision” upon their entry into heaven, and we celebrate this on every saint’s day. But there is something unique about Mary’s day. The Catholic Church teaches authoritatively that it is not just Mary’s soul that was admitted to God’s glory, but that at the end of her earthly life, Mary’s body as well as her soul was assumed into heaven by the loving power of God.
There is no mention of this in the scriptures nor are there any documented eyewitness accounts. Why would that be a hindrance to us believing when there is no eyewitness of the actual resurrection of Jesus either. The evidence for the disciples was the empty tomb and eyewitness reports that the Risen Lord had appeared to them.
Interesting parallel here. There is a tomb at the foot of the Mt. of Olives where ancient tradition says that Mary was laid. But there is nothing inside. There are no relics, as with other saints. And credible apparitions of Mary, though not recorded in the New Testament, have been recorded from the 3rd century till today.
Mary is not equal to Christ, of course. Jesus, though possessing a complete human nature, is the Eternal Word made flesh. Mary was human just as you and I are human.
But she was and is a unique creature, the highest of all creatures. This is not just because she was born without the handicap of original sin for Eve and Adam were born free of sin as well. Their being created sinless did not stop them from sinning as soon as they had the chance to satisfy themselves. Mary instead of succumbing to self-preservation made a choice to depend on God’s grace, to preserve her God-given purity throughout the whole of her life.
The bodily corruption of death was not God’s original plan for any of us. It came into the world through sin, as St. Paul says, “the sting of death is sin” (I Cor 15:56). So, it is fitting that she who knew was not tainted with sin at conception should be also protected from bodily decay faced by all born under the sin of Adam and enjoy the fruit of her son’s work. It is fitting that she who stood by Christ under the cross receive the accolades given to her by age after age – “The Queen stands at your right hand, in gold of Ophir” (Ps 45). Enoch and Elijah, who the Old Testament says were assumed into heaven, were surely great in God’s eyes. But they do not begin to compare with the immaculate mother of His Son.
We too, one day, insofar as we accept God’s grace, will stand at His right hand. But Paul says that “all will come to life again, but each one in proper order” (I Cor 15:23). The Redeemer, of course showed us all the result of a life of discipleship and obedience to God is resurrection. But there is something special about all Mary as she showed us the fruit of choosing a path of discipleship. The results are the one who humbly believes and obeys will be rewarded. Humility was the hallmark of Mary and she did not seek these honors we give her. But more than honor her let us learn from her and humbly serve others, humbly listen for God’s voice speaking to us and allow our own yes allow us to magnify the Lord.