August 14, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Mary’s Assumption reminds us God has done great things

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Tomorrow, Aug. 15, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The infallible teaching on the assumption of Mary into heaven was promulgated by Pope Pius XII only 70 years ago in 1950, but our Church’s belief that Mary was taken up to heaven—body and soul—is intimately connected to the reverence shown to Mary from the earliest days of Christian history.

We Christians believe that death is a consequence of sin. The original sin, the betrayal of Adam and Eve in the garden, resulted in death as each of us must undergo it. Our life on Earth ends, and our lifeless bodies decay and return to dust. However, the resurrection of Jesus assures us that we, too, will rise again on the last day, and, by the grace of God, on that day our souls will be reunited with our bodies forever.

Although we don’t know what form our resurrected bodies will take, the accounts of Jesus’ appearances to his disciple after his resurrection, and before he ascended into heaven, give us some clues.

The risen Jesus was the same but different. Mary Magdalen and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, for example, didn’t recognize him at first. He was not bound by the laws of physics because he was able to pass through locked doors. Still, he was not a ghost. He cooked breakfast and ate with the disciples, and he allowed the Apostle Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and his side.

We don’t know what will happen, or what we will be like, on the last day, but we do know that none of us will escape the corruption of sin and death. Each of us must die, and our bodies must be returned to the Earth.

Providentially, one of the great blessings of our Catholic faith is our belief in the communion of saints and our life with God after we die. As

St. Paul tells us in the second reading for this great feast (1 Cor 15:20-27), “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). Once Christ has destroyed the last vestiges of sin and death, we will all rise again, our bodies and our souls reunited for all eternity.

But what is true for us sinful men and women cannot be the case with Mary, who alone among us was sinless.

As Pope Pius XII declared officially in his 1950 apostolic constitution “Munificentissimus Deus” (“The Most Provident God”), Mary who was never burdened with original sin and who, therefore, never failed to do God’s will, was not subject to “the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave. She did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body” (#5). This is truly a mystery which we cannot fully comprehend, but when we reflect on this teaching, it gives us some important insights into what we Christians believe about life, death and the world to come.

First, we believe that life is a precious gift from God. We didn’t earn this gift, and we don’t control it. All living things come from God and belong to him alone. We are but trusted stewards of what a generous and loving God has given us.

Secondly, we know from painful experience that our inability, our refusal, to live as God wants us to live has deadly consequences. Humanity’s fall from grace was fatal and irreversible (by us). By ourselves, there is nothing we can do to prevent death from swallowing us up into a black hole of nothingness.

Third, we believe that Christ’s victory over sin and death has redeemed us from the finality of sin and death, making new life possible in and through him. Although we don’t fully understand this mystery, we believe in it. Mary is our witness. Her return to heaven, without undergoing the corruption of death as we know it, is a sign of hope for all of us.

United with Christ her Son in heaven, Mary continues to sing in the Gospel of Luke:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name” (Lk 1:46-49).

We believe that, once we have atoned for our sins, we will be invited to join Mary and all the saints in heaven in singing forever this magnificent hymn of praise to God our Savior. Let’s thank God for the great things he has done for Mary, and for each of us, her children. †

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