Assumption of the BVM
1Chr.15.3-4, 15-16; 16.1-2, 1Cor.15.54b-57, Luke 11.27-28
There is an old story about a workman on scaffolding high above the nave of a cathedral who looked down and saw a woman praying before a statue of Mary. As a joke, the workman whispered, “Woman, this is Jesus.” The woman ignored him.
The workman whispered again, more loudly: “Woman, this is Jesus.” Again, the woman ignored him. Finally, he said aloud, “Woman, don’t you hear me? This is Jesus.” At this point the woman looked up at the crucifix and said, “Be still now, Jesus, I’m talking to your mother.”
Why do Catholics treasure Marian devotions and doctrines that their non-Catholic brothers and sisters do not? It is because, I think, the Catholic Church is trying to tell the full story, to proclaim the full gospel.
But isn’t the gospel all about Christ and what he did and taught? Yes and no. The gospel is about Christ in the same way that the story of the Fall is about Adam. “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor.15:22).
That is why we call Christ the new Adam. But as soon as we say that, we become aware of a missing link. The story of the Fall is not only the story of Adam but the story of Adam and Eve.
If Jesus is the new Adam, who then is the new Eve? Mary is the new Eve. Just as the full story of our Fall cannot be told without Eve, so also the full story of our Redemption cannot be told without Mary.
There are many revealing parallels between the old Adam and Eve on the one hand and the new Adam and Eve, Jesus and Mary, on the other. Here are some of them.
In the old order, the woman (Eve) came from the body of the man (Adam), but in the new order the man (Jesus) comes from the body of the woman (Mary).
In the old order, the woman (Eve) first disobeyed God and led the man (Adam) to do the same, in the new order the woman (Mary) first said “Yes” to God (Luke 1:38) and raised her son Jesus to do likewise.
Adam and Eve had a good time together disobeying God, Jesus and Mary suffered together doing God’s will. The sword of sorrow pierced their hearts equally (John 19:34; Luke 2:35b).
In the old order Adam and Eve shared immediately in the resulting consequences and punishments of the Fall.
In the new order, similarly, both Jesus and Mary share immediately in the resulting consequences and blessings of the Redemption, the fullness of life with God; Jesus through the Ascension and Mary through the Assumption.
The doctrine of the Assumption teaches that at the end of her earthly existence, the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken up (assumed), body and soul, into heaven.
That means, therefore, that there are two human bodies we know to be in heaven with God at this time: the human body of Jesus and that of Mary.
The Ark of the Covenant was the central symbol of the Jewish religion, not because of what it was, but because of what it contained. Within the Ark of the Covenant were the tablets of the Law and a jar of manna and the staff of Aaron the priest.
None of these items were actually God, but they represented the relationship between God and Israel. Over the centuries, the contents of the Ark were lost, but the Ark itself was still revered because of what it had once held.
The Ark of the New Covenant is Mary, the Mother of God. As the Jews revered the Ark of the Covenant without ever confusing the Ark with God himself, so we Christians revere Mary without ever confusing her with God. Within her body was Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus took his human nature, his DNA, his cells, from Mary. She nourished him for 9 months as a mother nourishes her unborn child. Even after she had given birth, she could rightly be revered for what her body once held.
But that would be the wrong reason to honor Mary! At least, that is what Jesus tells us. If we honored Mary merely because she carried Jesus in her womb, we would be missing more than half the point.
The Ark of the Covenant was made of wood. What did the trees do to deserve being made into the Ark? Nothing; they are trees. No one asked their permission, they merely looked all over for the very best wood.
Similarly, Mary was chosen because she was the very best human being, but Mary is a human being, so God would not have used her without her permission.
This is why, when a woman shouts out today from the crowd, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed”, Jesus corrects her: “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
He is saying that Mary is blessed to be the Mother of God, but not merely because part of her body became the body of God, nor even because of the intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary, who fed him at her breast.
Mary is blessed because she heard the word of God, through the angel Gabriel: Who, more than Mary, heard the word of God and did it? No one. She is the Mother of Jesus, but she is also his first disciple.
How fitting it is then that, as the first disciple of Jesus Christ, she was the first human person to experience the Resurrection in her own body.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
Mary was raised before us as a symbol of the whole Church. Jesus, by rising from the dead, destroyed the power of death, so that we too can rise in our earthly bodies, and Mary is the first fruits of that Resurrection. Where she has gone before us, we hope to follow.
Mary found the way to heaven, and it began with obedience. If we are hoping to follow her, we must begin in the same way.
However, it will be easier for us because we have an advantage that she lacked: we have a mother in heaven whose only desire is to lead us to her first-born son: Jesus Christ, who is the only way to the Father.
Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.