I was suddenly reminded of my childhood days. After joining school, one of the first achievements that we look forward to is the day when we can stop using our pencils and start using pens. It’s a proud moment, but it came along with the clumsiness of using an ink pen. Thankfully, soon we moved on to the ballpoint pen and then later to the use-and-throw pens. A no frills, no tension, no maintenance, no pain pen available at dirt cheap price – what else could we have asked for!! We all know what happened next. Except for when it comes to gifting, most of us use nothing but a use-and-throw pen.
Nowadays we don’t limit the use-and-throw concept just to pens, but to lot of other products and objects and sometimes sadly to humans as well. Just a few days back one of my colleagues was talking about her friend who changes his girlfriend at the drop of a hat! I felt sorry for him. But then I realized that it’s not just him, there are many of us who use-and-throw people, who value people only when they need them, when they are worth something and once that is over we forget them. We do this to our family members, our friends, our partners, our office colleagues, our parish priests, our ministry members! But there is one to whom we can look up to, one who definitely doesn’t use-and-throw: Almighty God, our Loving Father! And I feel the biggest proof of the same is the Assumption of Mary!
The feast of Assumption of Mary is celebrated on 15th August as a Holy Day of Obligation. I came to know about this some years back when I got more involved in the Church, but rarely did I try knowing more about it. I knew it as an important feast day and that we contemplate about it when we pray the fourth decade of the Glorious mysteries of the Rosary, but nothing much beyond that. A few weeks back I was asked to share about this feast in a Jesus Youth prayer meeting. And I’m grateful to God Almighty for that. I didn’t have many days to prepare, but during the time I had, I could see Holy Spirit leading me beautifully to understand this mystery.
Assumption of Mary is last of the four Marian Dogma believed by Catholics worldwide. On 1st November 1950, Pope Pius XII through the Apostolic Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus” proclaimed:
“we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: 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.”
Assumption is different from Ascension which means rising up or ascending on one’s own strength whereas Assumption means rising by someone else’s power. Jesus ascended into Heaven and Mary was assumed into Heaven by God.
Though it was declared as an official dogma in 1950, the Assumption of Mary has been believed and celebrated since the time of the Apostles and the early Christians. The earliest credible mention about the same is in the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD, when the Bishop of Jerusalem on being asked by the Emperor about the body of Mary said that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St Thomas, was found empty. Pope Leo IV officially confirmed celebration of the feast in 847AD. It was officially defined as the fourth Glorious mystery by Pope Pius V in 1569AD.
Many things point towards the fact that Mary’s body was assumed into Heaven. The Church is aware of the mortal remains (relics) of all the Apostles which are preserved in churches across the world, but none has been attributed to Mary. Even the Bible, though not explicitly, leads us to believe the Assumption of Mary. Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant as can be inferred from the book of Revelations. In Rev 11:19, John writes about his vision of seeing the Ark of the Covenant in Heaven. In the very next verse (Rev 12:1) explaining the vision of Ark, he describes “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Reading further we realize that this woman is the mother of the Savior i.e. Mary. Just like the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant carried the presence of Yahweh, the New Testament Ark of the Covenant, Mother Mary carried Jesus – God himself – in her womb. And what would be the fate of the Ark of the Covenant? Psalm 132:8 says, “Rise up, O Lord, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.” This clearly shows that the Ark of the Covenant, which is Mary, would be where the Lord is right now – Heaven. Ark of the Covenant of the Old Testament was holy and pure, so much so that no human could touch it. Uzzah who tried grabbing it to prevent it from falling was immediately struck dead (2 Samuel 6:1-7). Wouldn’t the new Ark of the Covenant be similar – holy and pure that God would prevent it from any corruption?
“And who, I ask, could believe that the ark of holiness, the dwelling place of the Word of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin? My soul is filled with horror at the thought that this virginal flesh which had begotten God, had brought him into the world, had nourished and carried him, could have been turned into ashes or given over to be food for worms.” – St Robert Bellarmine.
Apart from all these facts and theological evidence, what makes Assumption of Mary so obvious for me is simple common sense! God chose Mary to bear His Son, to give birth to Jesus, to bring the Savior into this world. Mary played a very important role in this plan of God. And God prepared Mary for this role keeping her holy, pure and sinless from the time of her conception. Would God who protected and preserved her from sin when she was alive, not protect and preserve her from corruption after her death? Would God forget her after her role in the salvation history was complete? Would God use-and- throw her? I believe the answer is a resounding NO. We humans are capable of using and forgetting people, but God who is full of love and mercy is not! It seems only obvious for God to Assume Mary into Heaven after her earthly life. St John Damscene, a 7th Century Saint, would say,
“It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions”
Pope Pius XII, in Munificentissimus Deus writes,
“She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body.” (MD, 5)
But, more than all these, what made me convinced about the Assumption of Mary, was a simple realization. Towards the end of my preparation for the session and after having read the Apostolic Constitution - Munificentissimus Deus – I thought of googling the meaning of its Latin name. I was stunned when I realized it meant “The Most Bountiful God.” A document which was only about the dogma of Assumption of Mary, was not named “The Most Blessed Mary” or “The Glorious Mary” or anything related to Mary. It was named “The Most Bountiful God”!! And that’s when I realized that more than about Mary; the Assumption is about God, about a God who is so bountiful, so merciful, so faithful that He doesn’t forget those who are His, those who have been called according to His plan, those who have said “Yes” to Him. Even though we as humans may not remain faithful to Him, but He who is all powerful, almighty, He is faithful. When He says, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6),He means it. He has a plan for us, a plan not just for a few days or weeks or months or years but a plan for eternity, a plan which is the best for us not just for this life, but beyond it as well.
“If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
This 15th August as you celebrate the feast of Assumption of Mary, let this feast be a reminder of God’s abundant mercy and love for you; let this feast give you the courage to trust in God’s plan for you; let this feast help you experience God’s fidelity towards you; let this feast fill you with Hope of the everlasting life which lies ahead. If ever in your life, you feel dejected, you feel left alone, you feel that God has abandoned you, you feel the sacrifices that you made for God went in vain, may this feast of Assumption remind you that God understands, values, appreciates, remembers every single incident, every single sacrifice. He holds you close to His heart and has a wonderful plan for you.
2. Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02006b.htm
3. Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assumption_of_Mary