“WE TOO, LIKE THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, WOULD BE ASSUMED (BODY AND SOUL) INTO HEAVEN”
(A biblical teaching on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
First Reading: Apocalypse 11:19,12:1-6,10
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 44(45):10-12,16
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26
Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-56
The Assumption is the greatest solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; it is the celebration of her solemn entrance into the glory of heaven. It is her eternal reward for remaining perpetually a virgin, for being the Immaculate Mother of God, for the ‘Yes’ she gave in response to God’s project of salvation, and for collaborating consequently as a faithful disciple of Christ her Son till the end. Like a river, which after a long run flows into the sea; today, the Blessed Virgin Mary flows into the glory of heaven: transfigured in the Holy Spirit, poured out by Christ, she is in the glory of the Father! This is what we commemorate today – the Assumption.
To understand the profound meaning of what we celebrate, it is pertinent to note that the word “assumption” comes from the Latin root “assumptio,” meaning “to be taken up”. St. Paul teaches that we will be “assumed” (‘taken up’ or ‘caught up’) into the clouds to meet Jesus at the last day (see 1Thes. 4:17). Therefore, the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary should not be likened to the popular usage of the term “assume” or “assuming” etc. On one hand, “to assume” means to act as if something were true without any proof. If we limit our understanding to this, then, we shall miss out the point. When we talk of the assumption of Mary, we refer to the belief that she was “taken up” by God to dwell with her beloved Son, Jesus Christ in heaven. This gives value to the afterlife of those who believe in God and in His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; put differently, a feast which reminds us that if we remain faithful to the end, we shall be “taken up” into the clouds to meet the Lord on the last day (cf. 1Thes. 4:17). This becomes more meaningful when we consider the Pauline text of today’s second reading: “In fact, however, Christ has been raised from the dead, as the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. As it was by one man that death came, so through one man has come the resurrection of the dead. Just as all die in Adam, so in Christ all will be brought to life; but all of them in their proper order.” Here, we see the foundation of the grace of the Assumption of our Lady precisely in the victory of Christ over death and over the principalities and powers. The ancient serpent was placed under the feet of the Risen One and no longer has power over the redeemed. This is our faith, the centre of our hope: Christ is the cause and model of our resurrection. Those who are born in Him through baptism, those who believe in Him and live in Him, will be resurrected with Him on the last day, and like Him be “taken up” (assumed) into the glory of eternal life.
The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary is already prefigured in the book of Psalms: “GO UP, LORD TO THE PLACE OF YOUR REST, YOU AND THE ARK OF YOUR STRENGTH…” (Ps. 132:8). In this light, the Blessed Virgin Mary could be understood as the ARK of the Lord’s strength. How could this be explained? In the Old Testament, God made a covenant with the Israelites on Mt. Sinai through Moses. This is known as “The Law” contained in two Tablets of Stones. This was usually kept in an Ark prepared for it (cf. Exd. 25:10-22). Put differently, the Ark was the dwelling place of the Covenant, (that is, its tent). Consequently, in the New Testament, we come to contemplate the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, for she was privileged to provide a fitting dwelling place for our Lord Jesus Christ (the New Covenant) in her womb (the Ark). Jesus Christ is the New Covenant at its core. He embodies everything the New Covenant is. At the Last Supper, we hear Him saying: “This is the Cup of my blood, the blood of the NEW and EVERLASTING COVENANT…” (Cf. Mt. 26:27-28).
Being the Ark of the New Covenant, the Blessed Virgin Mary has some similarities with the Ark of the Old Covenant (containing the Law written on Tablets of Stones). When the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he said “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will “overshadow” you (cover you with its shadow – cf. Luke 1:35). The verb “to cover” or “to overshadow” and the metaphor of a cloud are used in the Bible to represent the presence and the shekinah glory of God. Similarly, when the Ark of the Old Covenant was completed, the cloud of the Lord (the Shekinah Glory) covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (cf. Exd. 40:34-35; NM. 9:18, 22). Also, when David received the Ark of the Old Covenant, he danced for joy in the presence of the Ark; he said: “How can the Ark of God come to me?” He also left it in the hill country of Judaea for 3 months (cf. 1Sam 6:1-2; 2Sam 6:9-14). Similarly, in the today’s gospel Reading, when Elizabeth received Mary (the Ark of the New Covenant), She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the baby in her womb danced/leapt for joy; She exclaimed: “Blessed are thou among women…Why is it granted to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (This is similar to the statement of David as stated above); and Mary stayed with her for 3 months (in the hill country of Judaea) – the same case with the Old Testament Ark as stated above.
In honouring His beloved and precious Ark, after His Ascension into heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ, judged it worthy that His Blessed Mother be assumed (taken up) body and soul into heaven; that is why the book of Psalms makes the allusion “Go up, Lord to the place of your rest, you and the Ark of your strength…” (Ps. 132:8). In this verse, the Psalmist makes an allusion to the ascension of the Lord into heaven (cf. Luke 24:50-53) and subsequently, that of the Ark of the Lord’s strength, which is better understood as the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is why in the first reading of today, John sees the “Ark of the Covenant” in the vision of heaven. We are told that God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of His Covenant could be seen in the temple, and immediately, a Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. We were told that she gave birth to a son, a male Child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Inasmuch as this part of the Scripture is also referred to the “Church” at war with the dragon, as in, the “Woman” representing the Church; however, an allusion to the Blessed Virgin Mary could also be drawn here. Notice that the text begins with the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in heaven, and then a “Woman” crowned with twelve stars, to give birth to a Son destined to rule the nations with an iron rod. Now, Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, she gave birth to Christ the Lord and Ruler. She received the crown of “unfading glory” when she assumed into heaven, little wonder the psalmist (in today’s Responsorial Psalm) makes an allusion to her as the Queen: “On your right stands the Queen in garments of Gold” (Ps. 45:9).
Dear friends in Christ, today’s Feast is not just for the Blessed Virgin Mary alone. First of all, it glorifies Christ, the author of our salvation, because, in Mary’s Assumption, the victory over death is revealed, which Jesus has already conquered. Secondly, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a precious anticipation of our resurrection and is based on the Resurrection of Christ, which will transform our corruptible body, making it similar to Christ’s glorious body (cf. Phil 3:21). Today’s Solemnity fills us with confidence and illumines our hope. Saint Josemaria Escrivá teaches: “We are still pilgrims, but our Mother has preceded us and already, indicating the end of the road: she encourages us that it is possible to get there and that we will get there if we are faithful because the Blessed Virgin is not just our example: she is the Help of Christians.” Let us, therefore, fix our gaze on Mary, already assumed into heaven! She is the certainty and proof that her children will one day have their bodies glorified with the glorious Christ. Our aspiration for eternal life concretizes when we contemplate the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; that she is up there, that she sees us and looks at us with her tender eyes, and prays for us. Hence, for us Christians, heaven is no longer a very distant and unknown sphere. In heaven, we have the Mother of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who made her our Mother when He said to the beloved disciple and to all of us: “Here is your Mother!” (Jn. 19:26-27). Thus, Heaven is open for us her children.
Above all, given the clarification above, the Church in her wisdom, and guided by the Holy Spirit affirms that Mary was taken into heaven – that is, body and soul. Even as the event (story) of Mary being taken up to heaven is not literarily contained in Scripture (since everything cannot be contained therein); however, the teaching remains deeply rooted in the Scripture as explained above. For these reasons, on November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith in his apostolic constitution “Munificentissimus Deus,” saying: “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 to heavenly glory.” This is called the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven and it is celebrated every 15th day of August. It is a holy day of obligation, and Catholics are obliged to attend Mass.
May the good Lord continually grant each and every one of us the grace to continue to fight the good fight, so that after the completion of the course of our earthly lives, or at the last day, we might be “taken up” into the clouds to meet the Lord, and be given the crown of unfading glory, Amen.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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