Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15-16 August 2020
“Almighty everlasting God, Who hast taken body and soul into heaven the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of Thy Son: grant we beseech Thee, that by steadfastly keeping heaven as our goal we may be counted worthy to join her in glory...” Collect of the Assumption
We rejoice today with Our Lady’s singular privilege of being assumed body and soul into heaven. It is not only fitting for her to be rewarded at the end of earthly life with her Assumption, but it is also a pledge of our own entrance into heaven after death. Today’s Introit (“A great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars….” Apoc./Rev. 12:1) gives us the essential aspects of today’s feast: first Our Lady is brought to heaven at the end of her earthly life, without suffering the corruption of the grave; and second, it alludes to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception and her Divine Maternity as she is “the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of Thy Son.” This Divine Maternity is Our Lady’s greatest privilege for she is the Mother of God. As the sinless Mother of God, she has been raised to heaven where she can enjoy the glory of eternal life with her body and soul and where she can intercede for all of her children. This fourth Marian dogma of Our Lady’s Assumption, which was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII’s Munificentissimus Deus on 1 November 1950, is added to the three other great Marian dogmas of the Church: the Divine Maternity, her Perpetual Virginity, and the Immaculate Conception.
“Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule. She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body.” Munificentissimus Deus #5
From this statement of Pope Pius XII, it can be seen that Our Lady’s Assumption is the crowning glory of her journey of faith. It is not her greatest privilege—this is her Divine Maternity, but it is the crown of all her privileges for she reigns at last with her Son to whom she gave birth and to whom she was intimately associated in the work of our redemption. How could God the Father allow the Mother of His Son to suffer decay (or decomposition)? At this point, we may speculate if Our Lady even suffered death. The Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate her “Dormition”; they believe Our Lady did not die but fell asleep. This is implied in the bull, Munificentissimus Deus #44 of Pope Pius XII for the Assumption: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, by that of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, We pronounce, declare, and define to be divinely revealed dogma that the immaculate Mother of God, the Ever-Virgin Mary, was on the completion of her earthly life assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven.”
In his decree on the Assumption, Pope Pius XII sums up the many privileges of Our Lady: “Hence, the August Mother of God, mysteriously united from all eternity with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a virgin inviolate in her Divine Motherhood, the wholehearted companion of the Divine Redeemer who won complete victory over sin and its consequences, gained at last the supreme crown of her privileges—to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and like her Son, ...to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven, there to sit in splendour at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of Ages.” (MD #40)
Harmony of Marian Privileges
Her glorification in body and soul results from the Divine munificence. But it also came, so to speak, as the logical conclusion of her vocation on earth and the way she lived it. Her Divine Maternity is in utter harmony with her Assumption, as are her Immaculate Conception and her Perpetual Virginity, both called for by the supernatural motherhood. How could she who gave flesh to the Word made flesh have suffered the corruption of death? How could she who did not know the least sin undergo decay, a punishment for sin? And how could her body, which by her virginal consecration belonged to her Son and His mission in a perfect and exclusive way, ever be subject to corruption? St. Alphonsus writes that "Jesus did not wish to have the body of Mary corrupted after death, since it would have redounded to his own dishonour to have her virginal flesh, from which he himself had assumed flesh, reduced to dust." (Quoted in MD #35) St. Robert Bellarmine also exclaimed: "And who, I ask, could believe that the ark of holiness, the dwelling place of the Word of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin? My soul is filled with horror at the thought that this virginal flesh which had begotten God, had brought him into the world, had nourished and carried him, could have been turned into ashes or given over to be food for worms." (Quoted in “MD” #34) Her Assumption is also in harmony with her association with her Son in the work of Redemption; Pope Pius XII tells us that she was “the wholehearted companion of the Divine Redeemer who won complete victory over sin and its consequences... (MD #40) Mary’s Co-Redemption is a possible fifth Marian dogma as she also suffered in her soul what Jesus suffered in His body.
The Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) shows how much Our Lady is intimately associated with her Son Jesus in the work of redemption. Mary was “predestined from eternity, by the decree of Divine Providence that determined the incarnation of the Word, to be the Mother of God... Above all others and in a singular way, she was on earth the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord.” (Lumen Gentium, #61) From the “Fiat” (“Be it done to me according to thy word” Lk. 1:38) of the Annunciation to the sorrowful ascent of Calvary, Mary, “embracing God’s salvific will with a full heart... devoted herself totally to the person and the work of her Son.” (Lumen Gentium #56) Now, Our Lady’s service takes on a universal dimension: “Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside her salvific duty...By her maternal love she cares for the brethren of her Son who journey on earth.... Mary is now in a position to exercise fully her “Motherhood in the order of grace,” without interruption “until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect.” (Lumen Gentium #62) This alludes to Our Lady’s role with her Son Jesus Christ as Mediatrix of all graces. Let us pray that this fifth Marian dogma of Our Lady’s Co-Redemption will soon be defined and then we can address her as not only the Immaculate Conception and Virgin Mother of God (her Virginity and Divine Maternity) who was assumed (her Assumption) into heaven as Co-Redemptrix of all souls in union with her beloved Son Jesus Christ who is the one Redeemer and Mediator of the human race.
Day of Retreat:
Saturday, 22 August 2020
by Fr. George M. Roth
St Mary’s R. C. Church
32 High Street
Gosport, Hampshire P012 1DF