The Assumption of Our Lady (Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10; 1 Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1: 39-56)
Our hearing of the official, dogmatic, teaching of Mother Church about Our Lady’s Assumption, which we joyfully celebrate today, proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1950 and quoted in our modern Catholic Catechism as follows:
The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death,
can present a difficulty for preachers such as myself today in so far as it combines both the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven together in one long sentence.
The Catechism however, goes on to explain more shortly and distinguish more clearly:
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.
Which all means that Mary’s Assumption was not achieved of her own power nor was it due to her own merits: it was a gift, a unique share in the power of Jesus’ Resurrection, given her thanks to the merits of Jesus the very Son of God made flesh, Who, being both human in body and soul and divine in His Person, could alone win victory over sin and death for the whole of mankind.
However, having won that victory in the flesh and blood He received from Immaculate Mary, the Assumption is a most fitting expression of Mary’s unique participation in her Son’s triumph and of her sharing in the Redemption He thereby won for all mankind. And today I want to propose that while Mary’s Assumption is indeed a unique participation in her Son’s triumph, it is not exclusively unique, not being, that is, for her person alone.
Mary’s exaltation and coronation as Queen of Heaven is based on her totally unique motherhood of, love for, and co-operation with, her Son in His sacrificial life and death on earth; she alone was, is, and ever remains, exclusively, Queen and Mother. But her Assumption, I believe, is not totally based on her uniquely-gifted personal sinlessness, but also on her femininity in the sense that it contains a message and serves a purpose for the whole of Christian womanhood.
Jesus, God made man, having risen from the dead and ascended into heaven for our salvation, there could be no rational doubt for believers that the whole of mankind … men and women … would and should, granted God’s goodness and mercy, be both allowed to participate in that glory. However, given humanity’s fallen sinfulness and indeed perverseness, there can be no doubt again that it could very well have been irrationally bandied about and secretly whispered that Jesus went to heaven because He was God, and men might possibly go there too, having ‘already gone there’, so to speak, in and with Jesus. But what about ‘mere humanity’, women, without that direct divine connection?
I like, therefore, to think that today’s great feast has also the purpose and function of recalling and heralding the native dignity and glory of God’s original plan for humanity, where the Assumption proclaims Mary’s peerless expression of the wondrous beauty of feminine humanity as intended in God’s original creation, now redeemed by Christ, and ultimately glorified by the Holy Spirit.
Think of Mary hearing the angel Gabriel’s greeting, so calmly satisfying herself about his person and authority, then going on to question him humbly yet pertinently about the meaning of his message for herself, before most courageously committing herself -- unconditionally and unhesitatingly -- to God’s purpose and for His glory alone, despite the possibility (remote but real) of her being put to death by the religious authorities and of her having to endure most certainly the contempt of all, especially the women, who knew her in Nazareth! Then compare Eve freely conversing with the devil, Satan, and aiming to get something for herself!
Peerlessly full, spiritually beautiful, and brave, womanhood, framed and presented in a physical presence of like perfection, that is what Mary’s Assumption manifests.
There are some today, however, who think that Mary’s expression of womanhood treasured for so long by the Church is not enough; womanhood needs power as well as beauty and courage; in our modern times, they say, it needs the diaconate now, and who knows, perhaps the priesthood next. And later, who hasn’t heard of the ludicrous Pope Joan? Foolish? Yes, indeed, for now; but who could possibly have imagined the ‘foolish’ horrors afflicting Mother Church throughout the world today some 50 years ago?
Among those who think so little of Mary’s beauty-without-direct-power are to be found some who would like to control the acknowledged beauty of the work and persons of traditional Catholic nuns (whose faithfulness so often shines forth in their faces) as a weapon for the attainment of their own more hidden and less shining purposes.
Now this mentality -- ruled by secular logic, not inspired by Catholic faith -- has no appreciation whatsoever of the beauty and power of complementarity. For them, if one person or group has something another does not have, that is inequality, mathematically certain; and, moreover, it is ethically unjust according to the standards of those who worship words discoursing about right and wrong but will not subject themselves to serve God’s revealed will. And yet, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our faith in God, His Personal Being, and His creation proclaims the supreme and indeed ultimate beauty and power of complementarity, which not only requires and demands, but actually, and quite uniquely, evokes those two most sublime virtues of Love and Humility which are the hallmarks of all Catholic faith and life.
Those who look at Mary’s more easily, for us humans, recognizable beauty and glory, but find that insufficient -- for their taste -- without the addition of power and authority, will inevitably come to look upon Christ Himself and gradually see less and less recognizable beauty there, only Power ever more! For the present, however, they simply skip over His more forceful word, such as 'Let the dead bury their dead, but you, follow Me' and concentrate, often over-emotionally, on His teaching on mutual love and forgiveness. Mary’s whole being has always and in every way, physically, spiritually, and theologically, served to protect the fullness of the glory of her Son and Lord, and to help our right appreciation of it and our true love for His Person.
Mary as shown forth in her Assumption is and always has been the ideal of Christian womanhood: beautiful and glorious, humble and heaven bound, with and for her Son and as our Mother: a beauty not excogitated and worked out by human pride, but one created by God for His own glory and our great blessing; a beauty most perfectly redeemed by Christ and then totally polished like an incomparable gem by the Most Holy Spirit of both Father and Son in the complementarity of Their eternal Unity of Being.