The Assumption of Mary

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Readings for the Vigil Mass: 1 CHR 15:3-4, 15-16; 16:1-2; PS 132:6-7, 9-10, 13-14; 1 COR 15:54B-57; LK 11:27-28.

Readings for the Mass During the Day:  RV 11:19A; 12:1-6A, 10AB; PS 45:10, 11, 12, 16; 1 COR 15:20-27; LK 1:39-56

Mary is the perfect proclamation of the Gospel, the good news of God’s love and salvation.  Tomorrow we celebrate the Assumption, not only of Mary’s body – though that is essential – but of Mary herself.  This is the Gospel: that God draws us, our very selves, into heavenly union with him, through Christ our Lord.

The readings for our feast are exquisitely beautiful.  So rich are they for this grandest of feasts that the liturgy gives us two distinct sets of readings, one for the vigil, one for the day.  There is too much for just one liturgy.

But we will try to contain ourselves, and touch on them all in less than 800 words.

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The Vigil’s reading from Luke warns us against misunderstanding.

“Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!”  “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”  The Gospel is not about our bodies.  The Assumption is not about the body of Mary.  It is about clinging to God’s word.  (The Greek is more personal than “obey”: it’s about guarding and keeping.)

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Yet there is a relation between our heart, where we cling to God’s word, and our body.  Our body is where we live it out – but the relation goes even deeper.

The Vigil and the Daytime liturgies both read from 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul discusses the resurrection.  The Vigil gives us the ending: “the sting of death is sin . . . .  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Daytime reading tells us more.  Death is “the last enemy.”  It is the ultimate enemy, the destruction of our very selves.  Pagan mythology sometimes came up with consolations for death, by claiming it was a liberation.  But those consolations were necessary because it is so obviously the ultimate destruction.

Maybe we can glimpse some of the awfulness of death through the words of St. Thérèse.  Amid all her sweetness and joy, as she lay dying, she also said things like, “I was lost in darkness, and from out of it came an accursed voice: ‘Are you certain God loves you?’”  “Oh! how necessary it is to pray for the agonizing! If one only knew!”  “Dear Mother, the chalice is full to overflowing! I could never have believed that it was possible to suffer so intensely.”

Death is horrible, because it is the destruction of our very selves.

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But death begins with the sin of Adam: “death came through a man . . . all die in Adam.”

And on the other hand, Christ rules over all: “he hands over the kingdom to God the Father,” “For Christ must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”

Sin brings death because sin is the destruction of our selves.  Christ destroys death because he brings life to our souls, and so brings everything, even our bodies, into the kingdom of our Father.

The Resurrection, and the Assumption, is just part of bringing everything to the Father.

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The Daytime Mass also gives us Revelation 12, the battle between the woman, the mother of him “who is to rule over all nations,” and the dragon.

We hear the same story, told a different way.  The dragon brings destruction, even of the physical world: “His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven.”  He hates God’s creation; sin is hatred of God’s creation.

But God brings protection, even of the physical world: “the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God,” and there is even a mysterious invocation of God’s care for time: “for one thousand two hundred sixty days.”

At the center is the Incarnation: “the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. . . . But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne.”

Christ, who is to rule over all, brings all things, even the body, into the Father’s kingdom.  The victory, though, is not the body’s.  The victory is Christ’s.

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At the Vigil Mass, Jesus says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”  But at the Daytime Mass, in the same Gospel of Luke, Elizabeth says of Mary, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary – not her body, not her disembodied soul, but Mary herself – is the one who hears the word of God and guards it, in her heart, in her womb, in her footsteps to the house of Elizabeth.  That’s why her voice, her bodily presence, brings joy to Elizabeth’s womb.

And that’s why Mary, Mary herself, body and soul, is taken up to heaven.

Are there parts of us that we that we find irredeemable?  What would it mean to let Christ rule even there?

eric.m.johnston

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