The Closest Communion
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary | Fr Allan White marvels at the communion of the Mother of God and her divine Son whom death cannot separate.
In 1950, five years after the end of the carnage of the Second World War, Pius XII promulgated the doctrine of the Assumption. A few years before millions of human beings made in the image and likeness of God had been consigned to oblivion and literally gone up in smoke. The doctrine of the Assumption teaches the value of an individual human life to the rest of humanity. The Pope declared in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus that ‘the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, on completing the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.’ The human being who most reflected the splendour of her Son’s humanity and his obedient response to the Father’s will did not undergo separation from him. She who was at his side on the Way of the Cross and who accepted the role of Mother of the Church at the foot of the cross was called to his side in heavenly glory. Preserved by grace from the alienation of Original Sin she was never separated from him.
We live in an atomized society conditioned by the notion of the ‘selfish gene’. Bound up always in the lonely competitive struggle for survival. Yet, our lives begin in the closest possible association with another human being: our mothers. The bond between mother and child begins and is deepened even in the womb. Our mother is everything to us. We depend on her for warmth, nourishment and are soothed by the reassuring beating of her heart. We are linked to our mothers through the placenta which is constructed of cells from both mother and child. It is a joint creation. Through it life-giving elements are shared. Recent medical research has suggested that cells migrate through the placenta between the mother and the fetus, taking up residence in many organs of the body. Cells from one person may integrate into the tissues of another, even into the brains of a separate individual. In the world of gregarious solitude in which many live it may come as a surprise to realize that we are closer to another than we ever knew. This union also characterized the relationship of the Lord to his mother.
The resurrection of Christ proclaims that his body did not know decay. The Assumption of Mary proclaims the same truth. Mary was taken up to be where Christ is: ‘where I am you may be also.’ (Jn.14.3) Mary’s assumption is dependent upon the ascension of Jesus. Mary is related to her Son through the grace of election and purity which she enjoyed from the first moment of her creation. Being without sin the relationship of obedient love was never broken. She also enjoyed the relationship of maternity. He grew in her womb; they shared a common life: they were of ‘one flesh’. In the resurrection it is the flesh of Christ that ascends to heavenly glory. At the end of her earthly life it is Mary’s body, in which the redeemer of the world was received and nourished, which is re-united with the glorified Christ. It is reunited, but it was never separated.
In the story of creation Eve is fashioned from Adam’s side. Their lives are bound together, but the desire for a false autonomy shatters that relationship. Their first reaction to discovery is to hide, the second is to blame each other. As the book of Genesis unfolds we see the vicious circle of alienation, division and atomisation expand: Cain kills his brother Abel, the precarious unity of humanity is shattered in the tumbled ruins of Babel, a constant refrain is the conflict and violence between brothers. Communion only begins to be restored in the relationship between the Second Adam and the new Eve. In this relationship there was no shadow of separation or division. Mary’s wisdom is shared at the wedding feast of Cana: Do whatever he tells you. She is only teaching what she has always practiced. It is the wisdom of the Son from the Father: that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (Jn. 17:21) The maternal filial relationship enjoyed by the Lord with his mother is an image of that unity within the Trinity: an exchange of giving and receiving, of loving and witnessing. Mary’s Assumption is a consequence of her maternal relationship to her Son, that life and that flesh in which they shared cannot know decay. Their communion was of the closest and not even death can separate them.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of the ‘Dormition of the Virgin’, from the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem.