There’s Assumption About Mary

On August 15th, the Catholic Church will celebrate one of its oldest and most important feast days: The Assumption of Mary.

This feast day celebrates the end of Mary’s life on Earth when God, the Father, took her into Heaven, body and soul together.

Much like the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s perpetual virginity, you won’t find this event in the Bible. The belief in Mary’s assumption is a part of our Tradition that has survived since the age of the apostles, and it plays a very important role in our understanding of the Virgin Mother.

It should first be understood that it is required of all members of the Catholic Church to accept the Assumption as truth. In 1950, Pope Pius IX, in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus, declared ex cathedra (meaning “from the chair”) that the Assumption of Mary is an infallible doctrine of the Church.

[B]y the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, 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 into heavenly glory. Munificentissimus Deus 44

Keep in mind that this statement only made the Assumption a required belief of the Catholic faithful; it did not create that belief. As I already mentioned, the belief itself is as old as the Church, and was held by those who knew Mary personally. In fact, it has been so crucial to the Church’s history that within the Rosary prayers there is an entire decade dedicated to meditation on the Assumption.

So why is this doctrine important to our Catholic faith?

If we truly understand Mary’s nature — pure, immaculate, and ever virgin — then the Assumption would be the only logical and fitting end to her life.

Remember, Mary was unlike any other person who has ever, or will ever, exist. While our bodies are stained with original sin, Mary’s was not. She was perfect in body, perfect in spirit, and in full communion with her son, the Savior. Her flesh could not suffer the same decay and corruption that ours surely will.

This actually brings up an interesting point to consider. The Church has provided great care and reverence to the remains of those important to Christian history. The bones of Peter, for example, are buried under the altar of St. Peter’s Cathedral. In fact, all Catholic churches have a Saint’s relic buried under its altar. That’s how important remains of the faithful are to the Church.

Knowing this, one can surely understand that, if the body of Holy Mary, Mother of God was still part of this Earth, the Church would have entombed and enshrined it — most likely within the Vatican — and we can only imagine the pilgrimages that would be made to visit it.

But that isn’t the case, because we don’t have the body of our Blessed Mother. Like her Son, she was assumed into heaven.

Starting with the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary acts as the perfect completion of her faithful service to God on Earth. It was the final grace bestowed upon her, to be taken up body and soul and crowned Queen of Heaven.

But there’s also something else to keep in mind.

According to the Catechism: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.

Through Mary’s assumption, we see, for the first time, the fulfillment of God’s promise to His faithful, that through salvation in Christ, we too will one day be joined together in perfect flesh and spirit.

Not only does Mary’s Assumption complete our understanding of her divine nature, but also puts on display for us the fruits of our own labors for the Father — a reminder of what awaits each of us after death.

By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful. Pope Benedict XVI

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We Don’t Call Her “The Virgin Mary” For Nothing.

Whenever we talk about Mary, we address her with many different titles: Mother of Jesus, Mother of God, Holy Mary,  Blessed Mother.  However, out of all these, the one most often heard across Catholic (and Protestant) aisles is The Virgin Mary.

Virtually every person that claims the Christian faith accepts that Mary miraculously conceived Christ as a virgin. Yet, it is widely believed across every Protestant denomination that after Mary gave birth to Jesus, she was free to give herself fully to her husband Joseph, and thus ceased to be “the virgin” Mary.

For Catholics, it’s a different story.  We hold that Mary was Ever Virgin, which means even after she bore the Son of Man, she remained a virgin for the rest of her life.  This belief is significantly crucial to our understanding and veneration of the Mother of God.

The Traditional belief that Mary was Ever-Virgin is as old as the Church itself, and held by those who were closest to Mary and her family.  In other words, those who could’ve pointed fingers and said “nuh-uh” but instead attested to the belief that she lived her life as a virgin.

Tradition is an important word because you won’t find any specific reference to Mary’s perpetual virginity in the Bible. As we’ve discussed before, Catholics rely on more than just Sacred Scripture.  In fact, our Tradition precedes the scripture by many decades.  So technically speaking, the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is actually older than the New Testament itself.

The earliest writings we do have of this belief are once again found in the Protoevangelium of James, which if we recall, is not considered inspired scripture by the Church, but does contain true Tradition.

However, much in the same way we approached her immaculate conception, we can understand the Tradition of Mary as ever-virgin through reason alone.

So ultimately the question is, does it make sense that, after birthing the savior, Mary did not enter into a normal relationship with Joseph, her spouse, with whom she shared all the rights of the marriage bed?

To answer this, we must first recall that Mary was never “normal” to begin with. Remember that when we refer to Mary, we refer to her as holy, which means set apart.  She was brought into this world for a specific, divine purpose, one that would impede her from living a “normal” life all together.

Mary’s perpetual virginity was the mark of her complete and total purity. That’s how God made her to be. Were she to simply go about her business as any other woman, she would have ceased to be the perfect vessel that bore the Light of the World.

But what about Biblical references to siblings of Jesus? Many who wish to discredit Mary’s perpetual virginity will often cite verses in the Scriptures that refer to Jesus’ brethren.

It is suggested in the Protoevangelium of James that Joseph was a widower with his own children, which could make Christ’s “brethen” his step-siblings.

However, St. Jerome in the 4th century claimed such references to be cousins of Christ, born by a relative of Mary, who also happened to be named Mary. This is perhaps the most logical explanation.

Even more telling, are the actions of Christ right before his death. Before breathing his last, Jesus gave Mary to John, who was with Him at the cross, to care for as if she was John’s own mother.   Why would Jesus do that if Mary had other children — or even stepchildren?

When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. — John 19: 26-27

Whatever the explanation, the truth remains that Christ was the son of Mary, not a son of Mary. It’s important to understand that belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity dates back to the time of the apostles, and it wasn’t until after Martin Luther broke away from the Church that it was ever widely contested. In fact, Luther himself accepted the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Those who were closest to Mary — who knew her, walked with her, and took care of her — they knew that the Lord had made her holy. They knew of her perfection and unblemished purity, and Catholics across the world hold tight to that truth today.

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man.154 In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.”155 And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin” 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church. 499

Pope Francis and Admonishing the Sinner. More on ‘Who Died and Made You Pope?”

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece dealing with the current trend of Catholic laity calling for certain politicians and public figures to be denied the Eucharist.

I took a stance against this action, citing that by doing so we encroach on the territory of Church authority. I received a great deal of supportive messages after publishing that blog. And I also heard from a few dissenters who felt it should be our Christian duty to deny the Eucharist to certain politicians.

They were quick to say that this would be “admonishing the sinner” which is something that Christ himself instructed us to do.

Let’s take a look at that Scripture:

If your brother sins, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. (Mt 18:15)

Calling someone out on the Internet does not fit that bill, does it?

While we may not realize it, there is a fine line between admonishment and judgment. Our actions have a way of showing which side of that line we are on.

So what should we do instead? What should we do when we TRULY care about the soul and well being of another person? What should we do when we TRULY want to help them?

If our hearts are truly burdened for our brothers and sisters, instead of chastising them publically, we could do something much more powerful We could appeal to God on their behalf.

We could pray.

Recently, in one of his most beautiful homilies, our Holy Father called for the faithful to imitate Christ as “intercessor, advocate, and lawyer.”

“Jesus, before the Father, never accuses! It’s the opposite: he defends! He’s the first Paraclete. Then, he sends the second, who is the (Holy) Spirit. He is the defender: he comes before the Father to defend us against the charges.”… more than accusers, we have to be defenders of others before the Father. I see a bad thing in someone – do I go defend him? No! But keep quiet! Go pray and defend him before the Father as Jesus does. Pray for him, but do not judge! Because if you do, when you do something bad, you will be judged.”

Let’s remember these words and take them to heart.