Sunday, August 29, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Rev 11:19, 12:1-6, 10; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1:39-46
The Catholic Sunday school teacher had just finished explaining the feast of the Assumption to her class. “Now,” she said, “let all those children who want to go to heaven to see their heavenly mother raise their hands.” All the children raised their hands except little Marie in the front row. “Don't you want to go to heaven, Marie?” asked the teacher. “I can't,” said Marie tearfully. “My mother told me to come straight home after Sunday school.”
(The story is told by Fr. Anthony Kadavil)
As we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, let us try to address three important questions: First, what do we mean by “Assumption”? Second, why do we believe in the Assumption of the Blessed Mother despite the fact that it is nowhere told in the bible? And finally, what is the relevance of the feast to our Christian life today?
In Catholic understanding, the word “Assumption” refers to God's action of taking Mary, body and soul, to heaven after her death. The Catechism explains that “when the course of her earthly life was finished, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death”. Because of her faithful, sacrificial cooperation to God's universal plan of salvation, Mary had received the ultimate reward, that is, immediate union with her Son in heaven.
The Assumption-event is not mentioned in the Bible, but there are strong foundations of the dogma in tradition and in theology. Belief in the Assumption of Mary had been part of Christian tradition since the first century – in the Apocryphal books and in the writings of the early Fathers of the Church. In the Orthodox Church, the Dormitio (or falling asleep) of the Blessed Virgin began to be celebrated as a feast on August 15 in the 6th century. The popular practice was gradually adopted in the West, where it became known as the feast of the Assumption. By the 13th century, most Catholic theologians held true and taught the belief of Mary's Assumption. On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined ex cathedra (or infallibly) the Assumption as a dogma of Catholic faith through an Apostolic Constitution entitled Munificentimus Deus.
Pope Pius XII gave four theological reasons to support the dogma of Mary's Assumption:
1) The degeneration or decay of the body after death is the result of original sin. However, since, through a special intervention of God, Mary was born without original sin, it is not proper that God would permit her body to degenerate in the tomb.
2) Since Mary was given the fullness of grace, heaven is the proper place for this sinless mother of Jesus.
3) Mary was our co-redeemer, or fellow-redeemer, with Christ in a unique sense. Hence her rightful place is with Christ our redeemer in heavenly glory. (The term Co-redeemer or Co-redemptrix, means “cooperator with the Redeemer.” This is what St. Paul meant when he said “We are God's co-workers” I Cor. 3:9.). Hence, it is “fitting” that she should be given the full effects of the Redemption, which is the glorification of the soul and the body.
4) In the Old Testament, we read that the prophet Elijah was taken into heaven in a fiery chariot. Thus, it appears natural and possible that the mother of Jesus would also be taken into heaven.
(Outlined by Fr. Anthony Kadavil)
What does the dogma of the Assumption mean to us now?
First of all, the Assumption moves us to look forward to our own resurrection and assumption into heaven during the Day of Judgment. By the grace of God and through our good life, we, too, will be united with the Blessed Mother in heaven.
Moreover, the dogma encourages us to emulate Mary's self-sacrificing love, her unwavering faith and her complete surrender to the will of God. Mary’s Assumption was a reward for her holy life. We will receive the same glory if we follow her examples.
Finally, the Assumption serves as an inspiration in times of temptation and despair to remind us that we have a loving Mother, constantly interceding for us before her Son Jesus in heaven.