Some thoughts on why this Solemnity is so special for Catholics.
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Adam and Eve ruined everything!
Such a wonderful future God had planned for us: the beauty of the Garden, a life without pain or sadness, a whole world untouched by darkness. And no death! But, no; our first parents had to go and sin, and everything was ruined. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
Now, before we get too self-righteous, let’s admit the truth: would we really have done any better? Would we have been able to resist, to hold out against the temptation, the wiles and lies of the Evil One? I think, if we’re honest, we all know the answer to that.
Still, everything was in shambles; their failure became ours in Original Sin, and God’s magnificent plan for humanity lay in ruins. We had banished ourselves from Paradise, evil was loosed upon the world, and Death – that tearing apart of body and soul, that destruction of the unity which we are – reigned.
So God, Whose will can never really be thwarted no matter what it looks like, came up with a plan – and a future – even more marvelous than the one that had come crashing down: a plan so wildly extravagant, so bold and daring, that no human imagination could have conceived it.
God could, of course, have simply, with the snap of a divine finger, wiped away the sin and the Fall and made it all new again. But that, because it would have disregarded our freedom, would also have also done away with our dignity, a dignity He takes far more seriously than we most often do.
So, to repair the breach and maintain our true freedom, the healing would have to come from among us who had caused the breach. Yet, none of us was strong enough; only God Himself could do that. So He chose to become one of us.
Now, for us, perhaps that doesn’t seem so remarkable, since we’ve lived all our lives – and the past two millennia – with the knowledge of this divine gift; but before it happened, it was, quite literally, unthinkable.
But to become truly one of us, He had to find someone, someone who was not stained and weakened by the Fall, someone to let Him in. So God searched forward and backward through all time – not difficult for Him! – and found the one person who would not do again what our First Parents did and what we ourselves would have done. He sought someone who, in humility and trust, would undo what Adam and Eve did in pride and fear.
And He found Mary, who unquestionably is the best of all of us, whom we revere as Queen and cling to as Mother; yet, she is first of all our Sister.
No one touched by Original Sin could ever have been worthy to let God in or been strong enough to reverse the No of the Garden. But Mary, alone out of all of us, once given a special gift, would have a fighting chance. So God gave her, and her alone, the remarkable gift of the Immaculate Conception – that she was preserved from the stain of Original Sin from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb. Even with this, Mary could have still said No, could still have chosen to sin; but she was also strong enough to say Yes. And she did! And God’s plan bloomed.
I know this doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Assumption, which we celebrate today, but we’re getting there! Without the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption however would make no sense.
Because of this Yes, this fiat, this “let-it-be-done-to-me-as-you-say” of Mary’s, because she fully accepted the grace and the role God offered her, she became the Ark of the New Covenant who brought God to His people. And Death’s doom was sealed.
Death is the rendering asunder of the unity of body and soul – we are not, as so many (sometimes even Catholics) imagine, souls inside of bodies. We are both, united together.
The meaning of the Assumption, as Pope Pius XII in 1950 declared for all the Church, is “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.”
For us, the end of life here is the shattering of this unity and the decay of the grave. But not for Mary. God would not allow her, the Mother of His Son, to see the corruption of the tomb, since she gave life to Life Himself.
And that’s unquestionably wonderful. And we rejoice for Mary, who already possesses this grace, which, after the General Resurrection, will be the state of all the Blessed in Heaven. But why is this so important that the Church needed an infallibly-declared dogma and a Holy Day of Obligation to celebrate this truth, which, to some, might seem like theological hair-splitting?
Let’s go back to Pope Pius XII. As he lists the reasons for the solemn promulgation of the Assumption, he says that it is also “for the joy and exultation of the entire Church” that he declares this dogma.
Now, if you don’t know where you’re going, you will have a very hard, if not impossible, time getting there; if you don’t know what the goal looks like, you might not recognize it, or confuse some other goal for the real one. And if you don’t know who you really are, very little in life will make sense.
This great feast of Our Lady is not really for Our Lady – she doesn’t really need it, living fully, body and soul, in the bliss of Heaven. And like the loving Mother she is, she wants to keep nothing for herself but share it all with her children. This Feast is for us – for the joy of the Church! – because it shows us where we are going and who we really are.
The dignity of the Immaculate Conception is uniquely Mary’s; but the dignity of living body and soul with God, which the Assumption foreshadows, that can be ours. That is, in fact, the great promise Christ offers us; and Mary shows the fulfillment of this promise to us in her Assumption. The intimacy, the perfection, the wholeness of life in Heaven (about which we think too seldom, I fear) is offered to us. This is where we are going, and seeing someone who has already made it, one of us, our own Sister (first and foremost) who is fully tasting the victory – that cheers us on. We rejoice – and are heartened – to see that it is possible to attain to this great glory. She is, as today’s Preface declares, “the beginning and image of the Church’s perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort” to us on our way.
Our Lady’s greatest joy, Saint Augustine tells us, lies not in her honors or dignities, not in the Immaculate Conception nor even in being the Mother of God, but rather in being a disciple of her Son! “Blessed” says the Lord in the Gospel for the Vigil for this Feast “are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
No one has done that more perfectly than Mary. But with her help and emboldened by her example and invigorated by the knowledge of what is possible for us, the poor banished children of Eve who are now the children of Mary, we can do the same!
Prepared for Aleteia by the Canonry of Saint Leopold. Click here to learn more about the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.