of the Blessed Virgin,
Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1618 - 1682)
[Ordinary of the Mass]
[Blessing of First Fruits]
“We declare and define as a revealed dogma that the
immaculate Mary ever Virgin, Mother of God,
when she had finished the course of
her earthly life, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.”
One of the fundamental doctrines of our Catholic Faith is
that of Original Sin. Man, we are told was created by God; a material body,
formed and directed by a spiritual soul—a composite creature. Today, we have
difficulty forming a correct understanding of this combination. Since we more
easily see material things, we tend to think of ourselves as our bodies; as
physical beings who have a soul thrown in as an afterthought; as though the soul
were something that the body possessed—like a wallet or a ring of keys in one's
But then whenever we give thought to eternity, we sort of
reverse our ideas. We think of the body as something discarded in a cemetery,
and our souls being the only mode by which we will exist. And, even
though—through the virtues of Faith and Hope—we may be looking forward to a
joyful eternity in God's presence, dying seems to be an awfully inconvenient way
of getting there.
And then, when we are told by the Church that our bodies
will be resurrected on the Last Day, we tend to be a little skeptical. God, of
course can do anything, but how is He going to bring my body back to life after
it has decomposed in the grave or been reduced to ashes by fire or eaten by the
fish in the sea? That conception of our bodies as the only reality, merely
“possessing” a soul, makes us lose sight of the fact that our bodies have always
been transitory. We forget that the food that we consume is continually being
made into new cells to replace those which have worn out; that we possess very
little of what we had when we were children. Our soul—that thing that makes us
what and who we are—is the only permanent thing; certainly nothing that is
material lasts forever.
Yet all of this seems to be rather clumsy. Why did God
make us in such an impermanent way that we suffer sickness and the disabilities
of age and disease? Why must we face death in order to enter eternity?
The answer, of course, is that God did not intend it to be
this way. When he created Adam and Eve, He gave them special gifts to preserve
them from the natural processes to which all material things are naturally
subject. He made them free from disease and suffering, quick to understand the
world around them, and free from physical toil and worry. Had they persevered
in their state of Grace, they would have been taken into God's kingdom without
the pains of death. They were created, we say, in the state of “Original
Justice,” and all of their good works would have been rewarded by God for their
As it was, Eve and Adam both disobeyed God, losing this
state of Original Justice, and bringing Original Sin upon mankind. They were
cast out of paradise, to bring forth their children in pain, and to earn their
bread by the sweat of the brow. They were reduced to the natural state of all
material creatures, feeling pain and being subject to material decomposition.
Finite man had sinned and insulted an infinite God.
Mankind could do nothing to redeem itself from original sin, let alone from
actual sin. Lacking the justification of grace, nothing man did was of any
value before God.
Yet God is merciful. He promised a Savior. He promised
that some day a descendent of Eve would come to crush the head of the devil that
had tempted them in the form of a serpent: “I will put hatred between thee and
the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt
lie in wait for her heel.”
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his
Son, made of a woman, made under the law: That he might redeem them who were
under the law:”
As God, whatever Jesus Christ did was always pleasing to the Father; His works
always merited reward. And, what is more, having been conceived and born of one
of Eve's descendants, He was able to represent the human race—presenting His
good works to the Father on behalf of humanity as its priest. He was a priest
that would offer much more than just the firstfruits and animal sacrifices of
the Old Law—He would offer Himself for our sins in the Sacrifice of the Cross.
The descendent of Eve whom he chose as His mother was, of
course, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He allowed her to benefit in advance from the
Sacrifice He would offer, in order that she might be without sin from the very
beginning of her life (what we call the Immaculate Conception). She was to be
the “new Eve,” the mother of the race of those redeemed from sin, just as her
Son was to be the “new Adam.”
But, Mary's job was far from over when she gave birth to he
Son, nor was it over when she raised Him and sent Him off on His public
ministry—it didn't even end at the Crucifixion or even His Ascent into Heaven.
For along with Jesus, Mary was to be an exemplar for the race of the redeemed.
Her job, after doing all of these things, was to demonstrate the possibility of
a human life without sin. Mary, the new Eve, could have sinned, just as the old
Eve did —but she chose not to do so—she demonstrated that it is possible to say
“no” to temptation.
This feast of Mary's Assumption into heaven is a
celebration of her Immaculate Conception, followed by her sinless life. Just as
Adam and Eve, if they had not sinned, would have been taken bodily into
heaven—without the trauma of death and decomposition, and without the centuries
of waiting for the Last Day—Mary was taken body and soul to spend eternity with
her Son Jesus Christ.
Again, she is our exemplar: We were not conceived
immaculate, but we have received the graces of Baptism and can always be
restored to grace through Confession. Just like Mary, we can say “no” to sin,
and spend eternity with her and her Son in the happiness of heaven—just as God