This weekend is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother into eternal joy, body and soul. Let’s unpack (at least a bit) this incredible, glorious mystery.
Point #1—yes, Mary did die, but her body was not allowed to experience corruption. This is an ancient belief in the Church, far pre-dating the idea of her Immaculate Conception. In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, this is referred to as the “Dormition [falling-asleep] of the Blessed Virgin.”
Point #2—the point of this dogma (more on that a little later) is that Mary is experiencing in anticipation the destiny every one of us faithful believers is promised—complete joy, in soul and glorified, transformed body. Preface I for the Ascension says that the Lord ascended (on His own power) so that “we, His members, might be confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, as gone before.” And this is what happened to Mary, by the grace of Christ and the power of God! What is this going to be like? I have no idea! This past Friday we had a memorial Mass, and as a prelude we had sung “I Can Only Imagine,” by Mercy Me. Indeed. Ironically, based on the lyrics of the song, I think a better title might be “I Can’t Even Imagine.” St Paul said as much: “What eye has not seen, what ear has not heard, what has not so much dawned in the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9). St John said something similar: “…what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2). What a hope, and what a promise! And we will share it with the Blessed Mother.
Point #3—This was officially known as an “infallible” dogma only when Pope Pius XII proclaimed it in 1950. But it was not new or any kind of “innovation” (see point #1, above). Pope Pius exercised the privilege of papal infallibility by defining what the universal Church always, everywhere, and by everyone has held to be true. Furthermore, he made this declaration after consultation with the Church universal, whose members were strongly in favor of the definition.
Point #4—why define only in 1950? I think the answer is very historical. The worst slaughter of human life in the history of mankind had only ended 5 years previously, including the horrors of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to say nothing of the saturation bombings and fire-bombings of Dresden and Tokyo, the butchery at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal, and the evils of the Shoah. In the face of this monstrous reality, people were questioning if this is all there is, and there is finally no meaning or purpose to life. The dogma of the Assumption is a solid response to this thinking—there IS purpose, and there IS meaning beyond this fragile and fallen existence.
Point #5—what about us? In this time-frame, I encourage people to get a copy of John Hersey’s book Hiroshima. It is the story of that bombing told from the points of view of six survivors. But then, we must remember that this devastation was caused by a uranium bomb the size of which no one no longer has—it is too small!! The blast over Nagasaki (a plutonium bomb, and subsequent developments, including fusion bombs) made Hiroshima seem like small potatoes in comparison. Should this scare us? Yes, it should. And nuclear weapons are utterly condemned by Catholic moral/social teaching. But with the intercession of the Blessed Mother (truly blessed, now, as fully transformed/assumed), we can become more faithfully God’s children now.