What is the Assumption all about?
Every year, since 1950, on the 15th of August Catholics celebrate the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a dogma of faith which means that Catholics the world over are bound to believe it. What exactly are we being asked to believe?
The basic teaching of the dogma is that Mary, at the end of her life was taken, body and soul, into heaven.
There are a number of things that can be said about this short statement:
1- The word “Assumption” is an English form of two Latin words: Ad Sum. These words mean “to me”. They are the words that Jesus uses about himself when he says, in John’s gospel that the Son of Man will draw all people to himself. The Assumption is an action of God, not of Our Lady. God draws Mary to himself. Mary, who had dedicated herself so generously to God by accepting to be the mother of Jesus, has this great work of God accomplished in her by God’s action which completes her dedication to God by uniting her to God forever in the divine presence. For this reason to believe in the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is to believe that Mary’s commitment to God in the Annunciation (when she accepted the role of being the mother of Jesus) is made whole by God’s commitment to Mary (by taking her to himself after her earthly mission concluded). This is one more example of the covenant, or contract, that God makes with his people – Mary’s commitment is mirrored by God’s commitment – and the fulfilment of this covenant means that each one of us is assured that our commitment to the Lord will be honoured by the Lord’s commitment to us. The Assumption, Mary’s being taken in to God’s presence, is a sign of our own being taken into that same presence.
2- “at the end of her life” does not necessarily mean after her death. The church has never pronounced on whether or not Mary actually died. Probably the most helpful way to understand this phrase is to read it as “when her life was complete”; in other words, having completed her mission, Mary was taken into heaven.
3- “body and soul” is a phrase with which we have become quite familiar. Sometimes we are inclined to think of ourselves as being composed of two elements, a body and a soul. However, we don’t really live our lives out as if we were two separate bits that are united in some way. We experience ourselves to be whole persons; we understand that being a person means that we have many aspects, some visible, some psychological, some spiritual etc. To speak of body and soul is an attempt to describe what it means to be a person. To say that Mary was taken, body and soul, into heaven, is to say that the person we know as Mary was taken into heaven.
4- “into heaven” is a phrase that can suggest that heaven is a physical place. This is not Catholic teaching which understands heaven as being God’s presence. Heaven is not a place, it is a way of existing. This way of existing, in God’s presence, is one that goes beyond what we can grasp, limited as we are by our physical senses. Heaven can be described as being in an intimate and complete relationship with God; a relationship that absorbs every aspect of our personhood.
As we celebrate the feast of the Assumption this year let’s remember that what we are celebrating is not just something that happened to Our Lady, we are celebrating something that will happen to each one of us.
Article posted on 10th of August 2012Click here for a printable version of this page