Friday, August 15, 2008

"The Queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold."

That's what the Psalmist says. For those who don't know, today is the Feast of the Assumption, the day when the Church celebrates the fact that the Blessed Mother was taken body and soul into heaven. I'll say now that, yes, I do think she experienced death (the Dormition or Falling Asleep as it's known in the East), so this post will reflect that.

I probably get more questions from Protestants about this feast than any other, even the Immaculate Conception. After all, at least that one seems to have a point. The Assumption just seems so . . . superfluous. What's the big deal anyway? Why would God care about this and why should we?

Well, I guess the easy answer to the latter question is that if God cares about it, then so should we. But why would God worry about bringing Mary to Heaven in such a way? Her soul was certainly glory-bound. Why was her body preserved?

It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in the act of giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father. It was fitting that God's Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.

That was John Damascene's explanation. St. Robert Bellarmine was much more blunt:

And who, I ask, could believe that the ark of holiness, the dwelling place of the Word of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin? My soul is filled with horror at the thought that this virginal flesh which had begotten God, had brought him into the world, had nourished and carried him, could have been turned into ashes or given over to be food for worms.

So there are reasons. For me, I really can't explain why I love this day so much. Maybe it's just something about the idea of that whole resurrection of the body thing. Lots of people overlook that these days. Heaven is a place for souls, not for bodies. It's not going to be that way in the End. We will be whole, just as the Blessed Virgin is. Not a whole lot of folks can make that kind of claim: Enoch, Elijah, maybe Moses. And of course, Christ Himself.

Or maybe the whole mystery of it all. Death is the final frontier, really. We don't get a lot of peaks behind that curtain. The whole point of the Assumption (other than preserving the body of the Mother of God from corruption, naturally) is that it serves as a marvelous sign to the rest of us about what we have waiting for us should we persevere. We aren't left guessing at what it will be like. Sure, we know about Jesus's Ascension, but He was God. There could always be people who might attempt to degrade or diminish the fate of the saint based on Christ's Divinity. Mary isn't God. No Divinity there. She's human, but her Assumption shows us that we are heirs to our own destiny of glory. It staggers the mind just to think about it.

This wonderful teaching was declared binding as dogma on all Catholics by Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus:

For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, 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.

Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

Yep. Ex cathedra, folks.

So have a happy and blessed Feast of the Assumption. And if you are Catholic, it is a Holy Day of Obligation, so make sure you get to Mass.

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