Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin - Year C

Apocalypse 11:19,12:1-6,10; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56

Whenever I find myself in a doctor’s waiting room or at a bus stop I search my iPhone for something interesting to read. EWTN’s document library rarely disappoints and so yesterday I found myself reading how in 2008 Cardinal Vithayathil was one of five cardinals petitioning Rome to declare the fifth Marian Dogma. They were requesting the Pope to proclaim Mary as "the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the co-redemptrix with Jesus the redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus the one mediator, and advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race."

By the merest co-incidence I happened upon another report a few articles further down the list which said: At the most recent Mariological Congress held at Czestochowa, 18-24 August 1996, a commission was established in response to a request, by the Holy See, which had asked to know the opinion of the scholars present at the Congress on the possibility and the opportuneness of defining a new dogma of faith regarding Mary as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate. In recent years, the Holy Father and various dicasteries of the Holy See have received petitions requesting such a definition.

The response of the commission, deliberately brief, was unanimous and precise: it is not opportune to abandon the path marked out by the Second Vatican Council and proceed to the definition of a new dogma.

Despite this negative response from the commission in 1996 I noted with some pleasure that the five cardinals were making a renewed request in 2008 because I myself, forty years ago, recall writing to Rome making the same appeal.

Well, that’s how the Church works in the formulation of Dogma. It listens to the experts, to the laity, to the clergy, to Scripture and Tradition and, of course, to the Holy Spirit, and then makes up its mind; and it can take centuries.

In his Catechesis on the Blessed Virgin Pope John Paul II said: Down the centuries, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church has sought to understand more clearly the revealed truth about the Mother of God.

It took many years for the early Christians to see that Mary was not only the Mother of Jesus but that she was, in truth, also the Mother of God. So the four great Marian Dogmas are Mary’s:
  1. Divine Motherhood
  2. Perpetual Virginity
  3. Immaculate Conception
  4. Assumption
Today we celebrate the feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. From the very beginning the Church had believed this truth but it was defined by Pope Pius XII only as recently as 1950. The definition states: The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over.

When her earthly life was over …? So did Mary actually die? This carefully chosen little phrase doesn’t really tell us. Some theologians believe that since Revelation presents death as a punishment for Original Sin, from which Mary was preserved through her Immaculate Conception, it would be improper for her to experience death. Pope John Paul II however says: Having been closely associated with Christ's redemptive work, it was fitting for Mary to share the experience of death before partaking of the Resurrection…

… since Christ died, it would be difficult to maintain the contrary for his Mother.
... The Mother is not superior to the Son who underwent death, giving it a new meaning and changing it into a means of salvation.

In any event the Church teaches without ambiguity that the Immaculate Virgin, by a special privilege, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory at the end of her earthly life.

Our bodies will rise at the end of the world; for Mary the glorification of her body was anticipated by a special privilege. But we need to note that the Church carefully avoids using the word ‘resurrection’ with respect to Mary. This term would have confused her rising with the Resurrection of Christ. Mary was ‘assumed’ by the power of God and her Assumption remains an act of God and not her own.

The dogma of Mary’s Assumption has no direct basis in Scripture but is implicit in Scripture which is careful to emphasise her perfect union with the destiny of her Son, from his conception in her womb to the foot of the Cross. Says Pope John Paul II: Perfectly united with the life and saving work of Jesus, Mary shares his heavenly destiny in body and soul.

In today’s great feast we see the plan of God for all his children. We, too, are destined to rise in the body at the end of time. In this truth we see not only God’s love for us but the dignity of the human body. As John Paul II says: the mystery of the Assumption proclaims the supernatural destiny and dignity of every human body, called by the Lord to become an instrument of holiness and to share in his glory.

What more is there to say? Let us study Mary and learn from her how to value our own body and to guard it as a temple of God, as we await our resurrection.

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