14 August 2010

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

‘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’ (Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII, 1950).

Dear readers, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was declared as an infallible dogma in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, but the belief in Mary's Assumption dates back to the early days of the Church. A very ancient writer, Modestus of Jerusalem asserts: ‘As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Saviour and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by Him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with Him Who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to Himself in a way known only to Him’. There have been many writings from the saints on the subject: John Damascene, Germanus of Constantinople, Anthony of Padua, Albert the Great, Bernardine of Siena, Robert Bellarmine and Francis de Sales, to name only some. The Assumption is not explicitly found in Sacred Scripture but it is there implicitly. Here are some examples: ‘Arise, O Lord, into Your resting place: You and the Ark, which You have sanctified’ (Psalm 132:8). ‘The Queen takes her place at Your right Hand’ (Psalm 45:10). ‘Who is she that goes up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh, and frankincense, and of all the powders of the perfumer?’ (Songs 3:6). ‘Who is this that comes up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her beloved?’ (Songs 8:5). Perhaps one of the most convincing and prophetic passages in the Old Testament is found in the First Book of Kings, supporting the Catholic belief that Jesus is the King of kings, Mary His Mother is the Queen who is with Him in His eternal Kingdom, interceding on our behalf: ‘Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, and the king stood up to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king’s mother, who sat at his right. There is one small favour I would ask of you, she said. Do not refuse me. Ask it my mother, the king said to her, for I will not refuse you’ (1 Kings 2:19-20).

First Reading, Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
In the Old Testament the covenant that was kept in the ark was a symbol of God’s presence among His people. The Blessed Virgin Mary carried in her womb not a symbol of God’s presence, but God Himself. Because of this, Mary was the human Ark -- the reality and fulfilment of what the ark of the Old Covenant symbolized. In this, the Book of Revelation, we read about a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. There are two ways to interpret this. First, the woman is the Church which shines with the light of faith under the guidance and protection of the Sun of Justice. The moon represents the changeable things of this world of which the affections of the faithful will rise above; hence, those changeable things will be under our feet. And so, the Church is clothed with Christ, with the changeable things of this world under her feet and is governed by Christ through the twelve stars who are the Apostles. The second way to interpret this is to say that the woman is our Blessed Lady who is clothed with Christ and her crown of twelve stars signifies that she is the Queen of heaven, Queen of the Church, Queen of the Twelve Apostles and Queen of the twelve tribes of Israel. Through this interpretation the Church proclaims that our Blessed Mother was taken to heaven, body and soul to reign as our Queen and Mother. The woman is in pain as she labours to bring forth spiritual children along with Christ in the midst of persecutions and afflictions. The dragon is often identified as the devil or Satan. The seven heads and ten horns represent those who serve the dragon by persecuting the servants of Almighty God. This is alluded to in the Book of Psalms: ‘The kings of the earth rise up and the princes conspire together against the Lord and against His anointed’ (Psalm 2:2). Also, in the Book of Genesis we read as God rebukes the serpent: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. And to the woman He said, I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children’ (Genesis 3:15-16). In the heart of Mary and the Church is produced the Word that is persecuted by the enemies and the unbelievers of this world. Saint John the Evangelist, the author of the Book of Revelation, must have reasoned that this woman was our Lady. How could he have not thought this? On the Cross, Christ gave her to him to be his Mother (cf. Saint John 19:27). Additionally, tradition teaches us that after Christ’s Ascension, Saint John and Mary were often in each other’s company. While we can say the woman can be identified as either the Church or Mary, it was Saint Ambrose who taught that Mary is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. This was reiterated by the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. The dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. More than likely this is alluding to Lucifer being driven out of heaven bringing with him all the fallen angels who sided with him in rebellion against God. The dragon stood before the woman who was able to flee into the desert to a place prepared for her by God. In the early days of the Church many saints fled to the desert to escape persecution. Saint Jerome points out that it was these types of occurrences that gave rise to the eremitical state of life. In the final verse heaven rejoices in the Church which through her trials and persecutions remained faithful to her Lord and thus was victorious over her enemies.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Saint Paul often makes the comparison between Adam and our Lord. Adam was created into an earthly paradise but his sin corrupted that paradise. Christ came and restored to humanity a Paradise which is not of this world. Paul refers to our Saviour as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. If Jesus is the firstfruits, then it supposes that others will rise after Him. At the general resurrection Christ will present us to His heavenly Father as the fruits of His glorious triumph over sin and death. Since Paul makes the comparison between Adam and Christ, rightfully the comparison can be made between Eve and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because of the sin of our first parents, Eve became the mother of the dead. Because of Christ’s victory over sin and death, Mary became the Mother of all the living. Saint Paul writes that all shall be brought to life in proper order; following Christ will be those who belong to Him. In our Blessed Mother is the proof of what Christ has promised. She has been lifted up to her Son, body and soul. Around 380 A.D. Timothy of Jerusalem wrote: ‘The Virgin is immortal because He Who dwelt in her took her to the regions of the Ascension’. Additionally, Gregory of Tours in 580 wrote: ‘Mary, the glorious Mother of Christ, who, we believe, was a Virgin before and after childbirth, was carried to Paradise preceded by the Lord amidst the singing of angelic choirs’. John Henry Cardinal Newman in his work, Meditations and Devotions wrote: ‘Was she [Mary] not nearer to Him than the greatest of the saints before her? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul’. If you think about it, the Church really doesn’t teach anything all that differently about Mary than what the Church teaches about us. Mary was conceived immaculately without the stain of original sin. In Baptism, we are born to a new life in Christ; and in that new birth original sin is washed away. Mary is in heaven, body and soul. Christ promises the same for us. Mary has been granted this grace ahead of time as proof that our Saviour is faithful to what He promises.

Gospel, Luke 1:39-56
With this weekend’s Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this Gospel is a reminder of one important fact when trying to grow in the spiritual life: where there is Mary, there is Jesus. Look for her and you’ll find Him. Come to her and she’ll lead you to Him. In this Gospel are the makings of the first ever Eucharistic procession. Mary, however, the human Tabernacle, does not need to be carried through the hill country leading to Judah; she is able to carry herself, bringing with her our Lord, her Lord and her Son. The house of Zechariah and Elizabeth suddenly becomes a chapel for adoration. Certainly Elizabeth recognizes Mary as the Tabernacle carrying her Lord when she says: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me’? John the Baptist recognizes his Lord as he leaps for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. In Mary’s Magnificat are the eternal words: ‘From this day all generations will call me blessed.’ It is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the angel Gabriel called her blessed at the Annunciation, that Elizabeth calls her blessed at the Visitation, that Mary proclaims her own blessedness for all generations in the Magnificat. The Venerable Bede asserts that in her eternal blessed state we hold her up to the veneration of both men and angels. Saint Jerome adds that Elizabeth too is blessed, yet the excellency of the Mother of God far surpasses that of Elizabeth and every other woman, as the great luminary outshines the smaller stars. Mary brought our Lord into the world. She gave Him to us. She presented Him to Simeon at the temple; she presents Him to us as our Saviour. She was present for many of the events of His human life; and after His Ascension He called her to Himself to be with Him in heaven. He also calls us to heaven to spend eternity with Him; and if we so choose, Mary can be our tour guide in this life’s journey, to direct us along the path that leads to her Son. In the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, are the words: ‘She [Mary], by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body’. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: ‘The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians’ (CCC 966).