This week, as we prepare for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we meditate on her motherhood and, in a special way, her role in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of her Son.
By: Rev. Paul Scalia
Venerable Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of Mary’s Assumption in 1954 – but our belief in this truth did not begin then. By declaring her Assumption infallibly the Holy Father simply lent the full weight of the Church’s authority to what Catholics had already believed and celebrated for centuries. Which raises the question…Why then? Why did he – or, more importantly, why did God’s Providence – choose that point in history for this dogma to be solemnly defined?
Perhaps, after the earth-bound utopian ideologies had produced the carnage of the Second World War, the Pontiff wanted to call our attention to heaven, the eternal home that alone makes sense of this world. But our Lord’s Ascension points us in that same direction, as does the Solemnity of All Saints. No, what makes the Dogma and Solemnity of the Assumption different is the body. All saints dwell in heaven. But our Lady dwells there soul and body. So, in God’s Providence, Mother Church called attention to the importance of the body in the wake of the 20th century’s brutal first half: two world wars, Stalin’s forced famine, Hitler’s concentration camps, and Nazi experimenting on prisoner’s bodies – man as mere fodder for the ambitions of others.
And the dogma had a prophetic power as well, since hatred for the human body has increased dramatically since Pius XII’s day. The view of the human person as a soul with a body rather than an embodied soul accounts for so many of the ills around us. From our sloppiness and immodesty of dress to the mutilation of sterilization and “sex-change” operations, we act as if the body were something we own and can do with as we will rather than as a part of what and who we are. Planned Parenthood’s baby-part marketing reveals us to be no better than the doctors of Auschwitz.
Our Lady, who destroys all heresies, routs also the anti-body heresy. By her being assumed into heaven she reveals the true dignity of the body: that it is for God and, through God, for others. The body is the sacrament of the soul, giving expression and voice to what cannot be seen. We experience a certain division between our body and soul; they do not always have a happy relationship. But our Lady enjoyed such integrity of body and soul that her body is the perfect sacrament of her soul. Her body manifests all the beauty of her soul. Hence the fittingness of her perpetual virginity: that physical truth expresses her soul’s purity. But most importantly, our Lady’s body conceived and bore the Body of Christ, which is to say that she bore Him – those two bodies intimately united as Mother and Son. Her body was not just a vehicle. He drew life from her by way of that part of her that is her body.
As always, what is true for Mary in a unique, unrepeatable manner is true for us – in this case, the significance of the body. Our bodies too are for God and, through Him, for others. Not for selfish pleasure, not for economic gain, not for anyone apart from God. And our bodies, in a pale imitation of Mary, bear God. Christ Himself dwells in us by our reception of the Eucharist and through us – through our good works, our charitable “body language” – He goes to others, as well. “Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20).
These demanding truths of the human person come to us through the gentleness, simplicity, and beauty of Mary. In the end the feast of the Assumption is not about theological anthropology and culture wars. It is about the Mother being united once again with her Son. It is about Her Son being able to embrace her once again. We celebrate the Assumption first of all for her, because she once again can hold and be held. And by meditating on that beautiful reunion we learn the powerful truth of the body.
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