Body and Soul
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr Thomas Skeats preaches on the theological importance of the Assumption.
In the early Church there was little concern for setting down a detailed biography of the Virgin Mary. The New Testament highlights just a few brief, albeit significant, episodes in her life-story. What the Church does put before us, however, is what must be said about her theological biography. Thus those moments in her life are emphasised when the grace of God touched her in a way particularly significant for the divine plan of redemption.
If something can be known of the theological content of the Virgin Mary’s life, then something can be said about the outcome and fruit of that life. So among the Fathers of the Church the privileges granted by God to Mary during her earthly sojourn – that she is the Virgin Mother of God unstained by sin, that she is the New Eve who cooperates with her Son, the New Adam, in the struggle over sin and death – are advanced in answer to the question regarding the basis for her bodily Assumption into heaven. For in her Assumption, where she is most intimately reunited in glory with her Son in his risen humanity, the full flowering of Mary’s holiness is revealed, the earliest seeds of which were sown in the grace of her Immaculate Conception.
So the truth of the Assumption is strongly connected to other revealed truths about the Virgin Mary, wrapped in these, as it were, implicitly. And as a hidden treasure, the Assumption was a truth of which the Church became ever more mindful, expounded by theologians and celebrated in the liturgy, until on the Feast of All Saints in 1950 the 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’ was declared to be a truth belonging to the content of divine and apostolic revelation. And in making this infallible declaration the Church had the guarantee, given by Jesus to the Church, that the Holy Spirit ‘will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:13).
It is perhaps highly significant, and even providential, that the dogma of the Assumption should have been defined during a century in which, more than any other, the human body was to be violated and treated with contempt. For a generation which had experienced the horrors of modern warfare and the dehumanising results of a number of modern ideologies, the dogma of the Assumption came as a timely shout in praise of the dignity of the human person, formed in the creative design of God to flourish as a unity of body and soul. And so our faith tells us that man will only be fully perfect and complete when he finds himself before God with the whole of his spiritual and corporeal nature.
For the Church that continues its earthly pilgrimage through history, the conviction that the promise of redemption has come to fulfilment in one of her members, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a powerful reason for our hoping to participate in the Lord’s Resurrection too. It is an assurance of the reality of the resurrection that awaits those whom will be raised up on the last day (John 6:44).
So while Mary’s unique role as the Immaculate Mother of God gives a certain particularity to her Assumption, her exaltation can be seen as the foreshadowing of our own. As we pray in the Preface of the Mass of the Assumption, Mary ‘was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection and a sign of hope and comfort for God’s people on their pilgrim way’. And it is our Catholic conviction that as we journey to God, our final end, we have the prayers of the saints who have gone before us.
In particular, we can pray in the words of the same Mass of the Assumption that we ‘may be led to the glory of heaven by the prayers of the Virgin Mary’, the Holy Spirit’s masterwork who is blessed among women and has achieved that glory which awaits all God’s saints.