Assumption of the Blessed Virgin
15 August A.D. 2010
At the end of his Gospel, Saint John tells us that it simply was not possible to record all of the works of our Lord in writing:
Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
But there are also many other things which Jesus did which, if they were written every one, the world itself. I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.
Two of the most important things that are not recorded in the Gospels are works of God with respect to His holy Mother. I refer, of course to the mystery of her Immaculate Conception, and to the mystery which we celebrate today, her bodily Assumption into heaven at the end of her earthly life. I am sure that we will have more to say about her Immaculate Conception come December—today it will suffice to say that from the very first instant of her existence in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, she was preserved from every trace of original sin. When we speak of Mary as the “second Eve,” we speak of a woman who was not only created without sin, but who chose not to sin as Eve sinned, so that she might cooperate with her Divine Son, the “second Adam,” in redeeming the human race from the sin of the first Adam and Eve.
What we celebrate today is the consequence of her perfect sinlessness. Adam and Eve were not created for death and the corruption of the grave. Had they not sinned, they would have been taken to heaven without the suffering and death that have become so familiar to their descendants. The Blessed Virgin Mary was given the opportunity to prove that such a thing was possible. Even though she was created on sinlessness, she had the same free will with which God had endowed Adam and Eve and every other human being. She could have sinned, but chose not to. Instead, she conformed her will to the will of God—without hesitation, cooperating with her Divine Son in His work of our redemption. And like her Son, when her time came, she was taken body and soul to sit with Him at the throne of God.
This has been the constant teaching of the Church, both East and West. Just as it is celebrated today in the West, it is celebrated today in the East—usually referred to as the “Dormition” or “falling asleep” of the All‑Holy Virgin. The earliest writings about the Assumption come to us from the Eastern Churches, and from Ireland where Greek scholarship was preserved during the dark times of the barbarian invasions, and throughout the middle ages. Even today, one can read the sermons of Saint Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople; of Saint John of Damascus; and Saint Lomman, the Abbot of a monastery in the middle of Ireland.
But what might be the “jewel” in our collection of writings about the Assumption is a letter attributed to Melito of Sardis, a city not far from Ephesus, where the Blessed Virgin lived under the custody of the Beloved Disciple, Saint John. Melito wrote about 180 A.D., and it is barely possible that he had been informed by Saint John himself. He tells us that when the time came for Mary’s falling asleep she was in the house in Ephesus, and was surrounded by her Divine Son and a large number of Angels. The Apostles too, were summoned to her bedside, and were instructed to form a procession to take her body to the Valley of Josaphat, to the East of Jerusalem, where a sepulcher awaited.
Saint Peter, the leader of the Apostles, deferred to Saint John to lead the procession, for alone among the Apostles, John had never married, and was considered to be the most Mary-like in his chastity. John carried a palm at the head of the procession, and Mary’s body was placed in the sepulcher, while they awaited instructions form our Lord. Jesus reminded the Apostles that He had promised that they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Our Lord summoned Saint Michael, who had custody of the Virgin’s soul, and addressed His holy Mother:
Since November 1st of 1950 the Assumption has been a defined dogma of the Catholic Faith—something which the saintly Pope Pius XII informed us that we must believe if we are to call ourselves Catholics. But as you can see, the truth of the Assumption was known by the Apostles and handed down in tradition before it was reduced to writing.
What are we o learn from the Assumption? We know that on the last day, we too will rise, and our souls will be reunited with our bodies, for that was always God’s plan for His human creatures. Everyone will be resurrected. It is up to us to chose where we will find ourselves on that awesome day. We must chose between the joy of Heaven and the pains of Hell. That choice must be made here in this life, perhaps many years before the day of judgment. Our Blessed Lady is the all-perfect model for us to imitate in making that choice. Together with her Son, she has given us the gift of sanctifying grace, much like the grace she herself possessed. Just like her, we have free will—she could have sinned, but chose not to sin. Just like her, we must choose not to sin—we must choose God; we must choose eternal life.
If that choice seems at all difficult, remember that we always have our Blessed Mother in Heaven to intercede for us, so that we may remain constantly in her Son’s good graces.
Mary, thou art the glory of Jerusalem,
Immaculate Mary, conceived without sin