ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY,
CLARIFICATION AND LESSONS FOR US
• Today’s ceremony, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a special one; a solemnity in the Catholic Church; with a surpassing dignity capable of displacing the normal liturgical readings of 20th Sunday Year B. whose Gospel is also providentially a further elucidation of the Eucharistic theology of John Chapter 6 (which has stretched for four Sundays now). In Mary, the ‘flesh was taken’ (John 1: 14) and in the Eucharist, ‘the flesh was given’ (Matt. 26: 26ff, Mark 14: 22, Luke 22: 19).
1. There is this opposition and unwarranted anger that greets any discussion about the Blessed Virgin Mary especially from non Catholics. This makes it difficult to have a candid and open discussion about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most non Catholics believe that Catholics worship Mary. There is a difference between worship and honor. Some persons cannot differentiate between the worship of God and the honour of Mary. We do not worship Mary; we honour her just the way we honour our earthly mothers. Can you remember how many “Mothers’ day” we celebrate? How much we post our mothers and celebrate them on social media and buy them gifts? We even have songs dedicated to honouring our earthly mothers because we value their impact on our lives. Why then this opposition to honouring the Mother of God?
2. What specifically are we celebrating today. We celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This dogmatic teaching was given by Pope Pius XII on 1 November 1950, in a document titled “Munificentissimus Deus”. The Catholic Church teaches that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory”. Let us make a clarification. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not the same with the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus ascended into heaven while Mary was assumed into heaven. Basically, Jesus ascended by his own power as the risen Lord, fully alive, body and soul. Mary was assumed by God’s power, not her own. Simply put, Jesus “went to heaven” while Mary was “taken up into heaven”. Our celebration of the Assumption of Mary is not an attempt by the Church to equate Mary with Jesus or replace Jesus with Mary. The lesson from this differentiation is that the Catholic Church has never placed Jesus and Mary as equal. Jesus is God, Mary is the Mother of God. While we worship Jesus as God, we honour Mary as his mother.
3. The honours we give to Mary were not invented by the Church. These honours were first conferred on her by God. We honour Mary because God honored her first. There are biblical passages that confirm this. For instance, Luke 1:28, Luke 1:42 etc. The major biblical passage for our celebration today is Rev. 12:1 which says that: “a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown”. Also, Rev. 12:6 lays credence to this. These passages describe how God has elevated and honoured her by taking her up into heaven. In the gospel passage, we see the special privileges God conferred on Mary being manifested. Mary visited Elizabeth to celebrate with her. This encounter between them was not only in the present, but also in the future. While the two mothers met and communicated, the two “sons” Jesus and John the Baptist met and communicated too. Elizabeth said something very important about Mary that: ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’. Is this not clear enough that Mary is special and blessed by God? Can we not honour the woman who is most blessed among other women?
• Our interest in the remaining part of this reflection is to briefly highlight some of the lessons we could garner from today’s feast.
1. That Great Reward awaits a faithful Life: The joy of victory is for those who have fought battles remaining true to God realizing that glory awaits our faithful stories. This motif of battle and victory was expatiated in today’s 1st Reading (Rev. 11: 19, 12: 1-6,10) The assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a message of consolation to all those who are struggling and suffering just because they want to remain faithful to God. It is an assurance that their heaven’s reward will far surpass their earthly labours. Our gains will surely be greater than our pains if we remain faithful to God.
2. That Purity is the key to incorruption: The plenitude of other historical instances St. Anthony’s tongue, and other saints whose mortal body parts knew no corruption is a strong message that remain pure and undefiled is the surest way to avoiding decay. This has both proximate and remote implications. Much of our physical illnesses are often tied to negative lifestyles. There is often a causative conjunction between a free mind and heart (of all bitterness, vengefulness, wickedness) and a sound body.
3. Our glory lies in our Connection with Christ: Mary’s glory consists in her special connection with Christ and so, is ours. In a sense, all we can say of Christ’s mission, (cf. today’s 2nd Reading: 1st Cor. 15: 20-26) has a connection also with the mission and role of the Virgin Mary. If we seek that special connection and identification with our Lord, and with His passion for salvation of souls, our own glory will be assured.
4. Favour demands Quality: Though favour is gratuitous, some qualities make God’s favours more enduring in one’s life. The Gospel of today in which Mary made a visitation to Elizabeth (Luke 1: 39-56) is one biblical pericle that encompasses many of the qualities of our Blessed mother and calls for our imitation. Let us attempt a profiling of some of them:
In that Singular visitation, we see:
a. Humility: Given her already exalted status which she did not even reckon in making that journey and also given her magnificat in which she repeatedly saw her self as lowly.
b. Sacrifice: She had to climb the hill country in order to render the help. This is symbolical and typical of any sincere attempt to help. It must involve sacrifice!
c. Urgency: She did as quickly as possible. Procrastination, as it is often said, is the ruin of destination. We do not need to delay response to the stirrings of our heart, the call for help, the Lord’s summon to any service etc.
d. Service: She was willing to serve Elizabeth for three months despite that she herself was pregnant. We need more of service mentality (not entitlement mentality) in our country.
e. Evangelization: As the New Ark of the covenant (cf. today’s 1st Reading), She carried Jesus in her womb in making that visit, and gave Elizabeth and her baby the privilege of a direct encounter with the joy of Jesus’ presence. She is the first EVANGELIST.
f. Desire to help in actualization of others’ potentials: In her presence, what was latent became active, potentiality became actuality, the baby in the womb leaped, Elizabeth prophesied, the Holy Spirit gifts manifested. Mary still does it today by helping us to realize our potentials.
g. Gratitude: Her magnitude is her song of gratitude. In humility, she acknowledged God’s favours upon her life in her nothingness. Indeed, Gratefulness and Gracefulness are intimately connected.
h. Deep Compassion and Love: Her visit was not motivated by showmanism but a deep feeling of compassion for the plights of her aged pregnant cousin; a message for us all.
• On this special celebration of Mary’s Assumption, Mary, in the Gospel, makes a journey to Elizabeth and to you and I. In this journey, she asks us to receive her into our house, to hear her greeting, to learn from her, to receive what she gives, to walk our own path to perfection with utmost sense of fidelity, to share in her heavenly glory. As our Opening Prayer intimates, may God give us the grace to always attentive to the things that are above, and merit to be sharers of her Glory. Amen
Fr. Teclus Ike Ugwueze