I’ve never understood why people who have no problem with Elijah and Enoch being assumed into paradise have a problem with Mary — the greatest, and most blessed of all created creatures — being assumed into heaven. “It’s not in scripture” doesn’t cut it, (as Msgr. Charles Pope demonstrates here) because what did the early Christians reference before the bible as we know it finally came into being in the fifth century? Teachings and traditions, as Saint Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “…stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
While the dogma was only made definitive by Pope Pius XII in 1950 (Munificentissimus Deus), the tradition of Mary’s assumption after her death at Ephesus is an old, old one that, as demonstrated by early-fourth century Ethiopian apocrypha (Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary’s Repose), pre-dates the Bible.
But I’m not interested in apologetics or in re-arguing sola scriptura, an idea which, ironically enough, is also not found in scripture. I believe in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary not because my church tells me to, or because I am particularly pious. I believe it because of scripture and science, and frankly, for me science has the edge in the argument, because of microchemerism. I’ve written about this these past four years; learning that every child leaves within his mother a microscopic bit of himself — and that it remains within her forever — made the dogma of the Assumption a no-brainer for me.
In Psalm 16 we read a curious reference to body and soul:
And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your Holy One know decay.
Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption. It follows that his mother’s body, which forever contained a cellular component of the Divinity — and a particle of God is God, entire — would not be allowed to corrupt as well, but would be taken into heaven and reunited with Christ. Mary was a created creature and moral. But she was no mere mortal; she could not be, once the particles of God had entered her chemistry.
In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we share a small portion of Mary’s larger reality, but it is a temporary portion — the Christ-food goes into our digestive system and is fed into our blood and our cells, but our blood and cells live and die and are ultimately sloughed off as new ones are created: this Eucharistic unity cannot last, and this is why we seek repeated reception of this Divine Meal — if we’re not lazy, we seek it every day, so this supernatural Sustenance and Presence can remain with us. But for us it will never be as it was for Mary, who lived every day of her life, from the moment of the Incarnation until her death (or, as our Eastern brothers and sisters say, her Dormition) with the very cells of the Living God dwelling within her own flesh. Do we bury God, even on the cellular level? Christ’s own resurrection says no. The Holy One will not undergo corruption.
In the the book of Revelation we read (as explained by Father Dwight Longenecker) about the place of the Ark of the Covenant in cosmic design:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (Rev. 11:19a)
We bible-believing Christians understand that there is an ongoing supernatural battle taking place all around us — a pageant of good and evil, things seen and unseen — and that all things will be revealed in God’s own time, when we will finally comprehend all of what seems to us mysterious and unknowable, today. But scripture, science and common reasoning (if it is undertaken) all serve to inform us that Mary is no bit-player meant to bear God himself to the world and then exit, stage right, with no further relevance to this great drama.
Moses and Elijah showed up at the Transfiguration; Mary, the God-bearer — whose fiat put in motion the entire thrust of God’s salvific intention — is certainly no less than either of them, and yet no other great biblical presence who said “yes” to God has ever been so dismissed by some as has been Mary. This is a great error, perhaps a grave one.
From this day all generations will call me blessed
the Almighty has done great things for me, and Holy is his name
– Luke 1:48-49
It is a mystery to me how people who claim (quite correctly) that there are no accidents in scripture, no extraneous words, not a single line that is without meaning, can be dismissive of Mary.
Then again, I’ve never understood how anyone believing so can read Leviticus 17:11 (“for the life is in the blood”) or Christ Jesus’ own words in John 6:54-56 (“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him”) and John 6:53 (“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”) or 1 Corinthians 10:16 (“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”) can still argue that Christians do not need to partake of the Eucharistic meal.
Why would anyone want to miss it?
But that’s another argument for another day. For today, let us ponder the great mystery of the Assumption of Mary, in light of science, and how our understanding of some things validates what we find today, in our research and microscopes.
“The genuine significance of Catholic devotion to Mary is to be seen in the light of the Incarnation itself. The Church cannot separate the Son and the Mother. Because the Church conceived of the Incarnation as God’s descent into flesh and into time, and His great gift of Himself to His creatures, she also believes that the one who was closest to Him in this great mystery was the one who participated most perfectly in the gift. When a room is heated by an open flame, surely there is nothing strange in the fact that those who stand closest to the fireplace are the ones who are warmest. And when God comes into the world through the instrumentality of one of His servants, then there is nothing surprising about the fact that His chosen instrument should have the greatest and most intimate share in the divine gift.” — Thomas Merton
Today’s Office of Readings from the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
It is important to remember that from the second century onwards the holy fathers have been talking of the Virgin Mary as the new Eve for the new Adam: not equal to him, of course, but closely joined with him in the battle against the enemy, which ended in the triumph over sin and death that had been promised even in Paradise. The glorious resurrection of Christ is essential to this victory and its final prize, but the blessed Virgin’s share in that fight must also have ended in the glorification of her body. For as the Apostle says: When this mortal nature has put on immortality, then the scripture will be fulfilled that says “Death is swallowed up in victory”.
So then, the great Mother of God, so mysteriously united to Jesus Christ from all eternity by the same decree of predestination, immaculately conceived, an intact virgin throughout her divine motherhood, a noble associate of our Redeemer as he defeated sin and its consequences, received, as it were, the final crowning privilege of being preserved from the corruption of the grave and, following her Son in his victory over death, was brought, body and soul, to the highest glory of heaven, to shine as Queen at the right hand of that same Son, the immortal King of Ages.
Frank Weathers: Yes, but don’t get too excited
Pat Gohn: Dumping my Assumptions about Mary