16 August 2010

Blessed be Her Glorious Assumption

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – C – 15 August 2010

Readings: Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a; 10ab; Ps. 45:10, 11, 12, 16; 1 Cor 15:20-26; Lk 1:39-56

On November 1, 1950, Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus: “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.”

1. What the feast is about.

a. The dogma of the Assumption didn’t start only in 1950. In fact, the feast of the Assumption is the oldest of Marian Feasts. The declaration in 1950 means that after a broad and thorough consultation, Pope Pius XII declares as a dogma what was already held in common belief in the Catholic Church for hundreds of years. A dogma is a divinely revealed truth, officially defined and authoritatively taught by the Church.

b. The Assumption is different from the Ascension. While both pertains to going up to heaven, Jesus as the Second Person in the Trinity ascended by His power to His rightful place in heaven. Mary, on the other hand, was assumed into heaven by the power of God. Assumption comes from the Latin assumere, which means "to take to one’s self". On this feast, we celebrate the Lord’s taking to Himself His beloved Mother, in the totality of her being. There are beautiful artistic depictions of the Assumption where Christ holds a miniaturized figure of Mary as He carries her to heaven, something like a reverse Madonna and Child painting.

c. There is a parallel tradition in Eastern Orthodox Churches. It is called the Dormition, the great sleep, in reference to the Christian view of death as merely a sleep while awaiting humanity’s resurrection. According to tradition, Mary continued to support the Church after the Resurrection and Pentecost. Three days before her “repose”, the angel Gabriel visited her in the house of the Apostle John where she resides and revealed to her the time of her death. The other apostles, scattered all over the world, were teleported to her bedside shortly before she died, except Thomas. He was delayed for three days. When he arrived, he asked to see her tomb in Gethsemane so she could bid goodbye. When they came to the tomb, Mary’s body was gone, and a sweet fragrance was left. Shortly later an apparition confirmed that Christ had taken His mother’s body to heaven to be reunited with her soul.

Saint Gregory of Tours provides a rationale for the tradition: “since Mary has been preserved from original sin, it is inconceivable to think her sinless body, should decay in the grave”.

St. John Damascene has the most eloquent testimony to the Assumption: “It was right that she who had kept her virginity unimpaired through the process of giving birth should have kept her body without decay through death. It was right that she who had given her Creator, as a child, a place at her breast should be given a place in the dwelling-place of her God. It was right that the bride espoused by the Father should dwell in the heavenly bridal chamber. It was right that she who had gazed on her Son on the cross, her heart pierced at that moment by the sword of sorrow that she had escaped at his birth, should now gaze on him seated with his Father. It was right that the Mother of God should possess what belongs to her on and to be honored by every creature as the God’s Mother and handmaid.”

2. What the feast reminds us.

a. The Feast of the Assumption reminds us that our destiny is in heaven.

Here’s a story I occasionally share during wake Masses and funerals… A dying grandmother gathered her family by her bedside. She said: “I have just one request to make. When I die and you lay me on the coffin, I would like you to let me hold a rosary on my right hand. And on my left hand, let me hold a fork.” The rest of the family wondered at the unusual request. They said: “We understand why you want to hold a rosary with your right hand. We know you are a devotee of the Blessed Mother. But a fork? We haven’t seen anything like it.” The old lady explained: “When I was little, my grandmother would always take me to parties and banquets. She has one advice I would never forget. After finishing the main course, she would say: ‘Get hold of your fork. Because the best is yet to come.’ We get to eat dessert! So when I die and people see me in my coffin holding a fork, it is me saying: ‘The best is yet to come’.”

The Assumption of Mary bears witness to the promise of Resurrection, and by doing so we are reminded that there is more than just our life on earth and that death is not the end of our journey. The feast reminds us that the best is yet to come.

However, this heavenly destiny is not something that will inevitably unfold before us no matter what we do. Rather, we have been shown the road map, we have been promised the glory. All we have to do is to journey towards it. Mary has been journeying her whole life towards that destiny. Is our life’s direction so far leading to us to our heavenly destiny?

b. The Feast of the Assumption reminds us that we are blessed.

Mary sings in the Magnificat: “All generations will call me blessed.” Mary may be singularly blessed by God, she being the Mother of God, immaculately conceived and then assumed into heaven. But more than being an exception, Mary’s blessings remind us that God imparts His blessings upon us too.

Would you feel blessed if right now you are suffering from an illness? Or if you lose your job or couldn’t find any? Or if you fail an exam or doesn’t go to school? Or when a loved one left you? Would you still feel blessed?

Let me share with you email and Youtube sensation, Nick. In his talks Nick would introduce himself with these words: "My name is Nick Vujicic and I give God the Glory for how He has used my testimony to touch thousands of hearts around the world! I was born without limbs and doctors have no medical explanation for this birth 'defect'. As you can imagine, I was faced with many challenges and obstacles.” Nick has no arms and legs, with only a short stubble for a foot that enables him to waddle to get along. Yet he is able to do many things: swim, fish, write, travel, earn a college degree, get a job, found a company, etc. He radiates a sunny disposition to those he meets.

For a long time, he says he kept praying for a miracle to happen. But later on he would realize: "I was given the wisdom to understand that if we pray for something, if it's God's will, it'll happen in His time. If it's not God's will for it to happen, then I know that He has something better. I now see that Glory revealed as He is using me just the way I am and in ways others can't be used."

When Nick delivers his message, it is hard not to be moved. His testimony reaches like no other can to those suffering from bad self-image and low self-esteem, those contemplating suicide or violence, those who have lost hope. When they see and hear him, somehow they regain a spark of hope and meaning.

In the Gospel this Sunday, in Lk 1,45, Elizabeth says to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” And in response to somebody in the crowd who said “Blessed is the womb that carried you”, Jesus replies in Lk 11,28: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” In short, blessed are they who believe in the word of the Lord and practice it.

We have been blessed by the Lord, each in our own ways. Most importantly, we have been blessed by the presence of the Lord Himself in our lives. Remember that in baptism and confirmation, we have received His Spirit.

What do we do when we know that we are blessed? Be grateful to the Lord. And share our blessings. The Blessed Mother has been sharing her blessings ever since she had an inkling of what she got from God. She went in haste to help her elderly cousin Elizabeth. She carried Jesus, nursed Him and raised Him. She supported His ministry to the end. She was a pillar of strength to the early Church. Even now, she continues to share her blessing through her intercession. Because of these, Mary was even more blessed and eventually received the grace of Resurrection and Assumption ahead of us.

So be grateful to God and share your blessings. As Nick’s favorite verse says: “And we know that in all things God works for the best for those who love Him”. This verse from Rom 8,28, may just be the best argument for the Assumption.

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