Those who have visited St. Peter’s Basilica in
Rome may recall finding inscribed on the west wall of the narthex of this
immense building the names of hundreds of bishops from all over the world
who had gathered there on November 1, 1950, to hear Pope Pius XII proclaim
the new doctrine of the Assumption of Mary.
I was in high school when I heard the news that
the Assumption of Mary was now one of the infallible doctrines of the
Catholic Church to be celebrated each year on August 15. I was thrilled
about this, not only because the Blessed Virgin Mary was very dear to me,
but also because my high school was Assumption High School in Dwight,
Nebraska, now blended into Aquinas High School in David City.
Theologically, the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption
flows from the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception, which teaches that
from the first moment of her conception in her mother’s womb, she had been
preserved from Original Sin and its effects, one of which is bodily
corruption after death.
Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her Assumption
were two gifts that God bestowed upon her because of the special role she
was to play as the Mother of the Redeemer. It is comforting to realize that
God "custom built," so to speak, this woman who was destined to be the
Mother of His Divine Son. All the more reason for us to honor her.
What practical applications can we make to
ourselves as we celebrate Mary’s Assumption, body and soul, into heaven?
Three possibilities come to mind.
First, Mary in no way earned or deserved these
special gifts from God. Like all gifts, they were granted to her for no
other reason than that He chose to bestow them upon her rather than someone
else. We recall the gospel scene when an anonymous woman in the crowd cried
out: "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you,"
and Jesus responded: "Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God
and keep it." The fact that Mary mothered Jesus was His gift to her,
whereas the fact that she always "heard the word of God and kept it" was her
gift to Him.
Second, in celebrating the Assumption of
Mary we are recalling the fact that when God called her in death, He
called her to come to Him. She didn’t make that decision;
He did. She was merely responding to His wish, His desire, which was
exactly what she had always done in her life. When she told the waiter at
the Cana wedding, "Do whatever He tells you," she was only urging him
to do what she had done throughout her life—that is, obey. She is our mentor
in that regard.
Third, once we comprehend that the sacred
body of Jesus was taken from the body of His Holy Mother, we can better
understand how fitting it was that her body was given a special place in
God’s plan. We can also see how we always ought to treasure the almost
infinite capabilities of this precise machine, known as the human body, and
reverence it as God’s marvelous gift to us.
With this year’s Monday celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption
being non-obligatory for Catholics, this feast provides the perfect occasion
for our voluntary Mass attendance that day to show our true love and
devotion for the Blessed Mother and all that she offers us as a spiritual
model and guide.