During his homily at mass today, the feast of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, the priest mentioned the historical tidbit that the dogma of the Assumption was defined by Pope Pius XII in November 1, 1950. I was surprised to be reminded how recent that was (within my parents’ lifetime), and it got me thinking, why then? Why now? Why at all?
[By] 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. [Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus #44, 1950]
Understanding that dogmas aren’t just plucked out of thin air, I somehow knew that this has been a held belief, a part of Tradition, that was merely defined when it was (meaning it existed even before 1950). When I think about it, it’s really not that hard to believe that Mary’s Assumption happened. After Jesus died, Mary must have been cared for by John and the rest of the apostles (while John 19:26-27 has since been taken as basis for Mary being Mother to us all, I surmise that the apostle John took it as a practical concern on Jesus’ part) . As the mother of Jesus, it makes sense that the apostles did everything in their power to help her, support her, protect her. And had she died, or more correctly, had her body remained here on earth, wouldn’t her final resting place, or at least the story of her final moments here on earth, have been remembered, recorded, passed on as part of Tradition? And yet what we have is this story, and a body missing from a tomb. If the early Church Fathers believed it, having lived so much closer to Jesus’ and Mary’s time, I don’t see why I can’t, even in this day and age.
And before I tread any deeper into waters way above my head, let me go back to my earlier thought. The dogma of the Assumption, and the Immaculate Conception for that matter, seemed like inferred bookends to the main story. Here was Mary, Mother of Jesus, model of surrender, handmaid of the Lord. She was, technically, the only one who was with Jesus from the very beginning to the very end (and, well, beyond). Going back, we had to believe that her story before the Annunciation was consistently immaculate (no other term would suffice), leading up to her moment of complete surrender. As the Immaculate Conception secures the beginning of Mary’s story, so the Assumption assures us of how she continued to be who she was–faithful, holy, immaculate to the end.
That her story did not end with the death of her Son. That she continued to journey, to persevere, to serve God.
And for that, she was welcomed into Heaven. Body and Soul.
At a time when I’ve been feeling a bit weary, going through the motions of my day to day, I needed the image of the Assumption to jolt me out of this spell.
Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals … threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective. [Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus #42, 1950]
I needed to be reminded that my story is not yet over, that it did not end with falling in love with Christ as a teenager, or finding my career as a doctor, or meeting my husband and starting a family, or even with co-founding a Catholic charismatic community. After all that has already happened in my life, I must realize that God still chooses to reveal Himself to me in many ways, in all ways. That no matter what lies ahead of me, I must continue to journey, to persevere, to serve God.
That I will continue to see His Glory revealed, until that final, indescribable moment in Heaven.
There is so much more than this. And in case I’m tempted to forget that, God gave me Mary, assumed into Heaven.