Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin AD 2019
Assumption of the Virgin,
1670 Bartolome Esteban Murillo.
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Blessing of First Fruits
There's a saying that nothing is inevitable except death
and taxes. Some folks are even able to avoid paying their taxes—but nobody
seems to be able to cheat death.
The reason for this is simple: We are complex beings, made
up of innumerable atoms, and molecules, and intricate body parts—a vast
material assembly, held together in a organized fashion by a spiritual soul. But
the nature of material things is that tend to become disorganized, disintegrate,
and fall apart. We see this in nature all the time: Even very well made things
eventually wear out and break down; plants and animals as well as people
eventually give up the ghost and die. As the Psalmist says, "70 is the sum
of our years, or 80 if we are strong."
When God created the material universe, He did so knowing
its transitory nature. Presumably, He made it this way so that it could renew
itself over the ages, with new creatures being born out of the elements of old
But in creating human beings, God made creatures who were
in many ways like Himself. He made us, as we say "in His image and
likeness." The most important similarity we have to God is that we possess
an immortal soul—a spiritual entity which will never be subject to material
And to go along with this immortal soul, God gave Adam and
Eve the very special grace of also preserving their bodies from the ravages of
accident, disease, suffering, and death. Had they retained their original
sinless innocence, their material bodies might well have functioned perfectly
forever. "Grace," as we say, "perfects nature," and an
absolutely sinless soul would have held the body together indefinitely.
But, we know that Adam and Eve disobeyed God—they
sinned—and they lost all of these preternatural graces given by God.
Yet, we also know that at the time of God's choosing, He
sent a woman into the world, who would be the Mother of His Divine Son. He
determined that His Son would take flesh of her flesh, and bone of her bone.
Now, since the entirely sinless flesh of Jesus was the flesh of Mary, God
determined also that He would preserve Mary from every stain of sin—right
from the very moment of her conception.
And Mary, being the perfectly humble and obedient daughter
that she was, persevered in the will of the Father, and remained equally sinless
throughout her entire life.
It is for this reason that we celebrate the feast of the
Assumption—for it has been the unchanging belief of Christians, since the
first centuries, "that the immaculate Mary ever Virgin, Mother of God, when
she had finished the course of her life, was taken up body and soul into the
glory of heaven."
These words are from the dogmatic definition of Pope Pius
XII in 1950, but in essence, they have always been the constant doctrinal
teaching of the Church. As Pope Pius pointed out in his accompanying encyclical,
Munificentissimus Deus, this teaching comes to us from the earliest
traditions of the Church, is found in the earliest liturgies of both the Greek
and Roman churches, in the innumerable church buildings dedicated under the
title of the Assumption, or Dormition, to use the Greek term. It is implicit in
the definition of the Council of Ephesus, that Mary is the Mother of God; and in
Pope Pius IX's definition of the Immaculate Conception. It is found in the
writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, as well as in those of the
Popes over the centuries.
There is a little room for discussion in this. We may ask
whether Mary died at all—"Dormition" means a "falling
asleep," and may indicate that Mary was preserved not just from the decay
of the grave, but from death itself. Some theologians believe this was the case.
Others suggest that our sinless Mother offered herself up to death, just as her
sinless Son—something that she didn't have to do, but did anyway in union
with our redemption. In any event, we know that because of her sinless life,
both her body and soul were carried to heaven at its end.
This feast of the Assumption should be one of great
rejoicing for all Christians. Like the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord,
it proclaims the victory of the human race over sin, suffering, and death.
In a sense, it is even more significant for us, in that
Mary was a mere human, as we are. This shows us that it is possible for us mere
humans to live a life free from sin.
Mary could have sinned, but she chose not to, and was
rewarded with eternal life of body and soul. We have sinned, but we can confess
our sins, and follow Mary's lead. Because of original sin and our own actual
sins, we will not be assumed into heaven in our bodies—but, by virtue of the
Redemption which Mary made possible, we can look forward to a glorious
resurrection at the end of time.
Because of Mary, we can look forward to the life of the
world to come.