On August 15th, our Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary .
The date, the feast, the meaning of it can escape us very easily. What does that have to do with my life in this world or my life of faith, for that matter?
More than we think. Here are some pieces of information and affirmation to use in making the feast one to celebrate and treasure.
Fact: The Assumption of Mary was declared a dogma of the Church in 1950. Something new in the Church’s teaching? Not really. From the earliest centuries, believers held that Mary’s body was not to be found buried in the earth, but that her body and soul had been taken up. Just as Jesus is the first fruit of the Resurrection, Mary is the first human person to be in that tradition. A church was dedicated to the Assumption of Mary in Jerusalem in the 4th century. The feast was observed in Rome by the end of the 7th century . The post-Resurrection home of Mary in in Ephesus is still a place of pilgrimage today.
People have played with the meaning of Mary’s Assumption in all sorts of ways – playing to release its profound meaning for us in ways that can penetrate our obtuse limits.
For example, among our in-words today is “closure”. We put closure on our conversations, conferences, business dealings, and sometimes on our relationships. The opposite of closure is “without end.” Few things in life are without end. We say “I will love you forever (beyond death.) We pray to one God, world without end. It is the belief of the faith community that Mary is the first example of a human being who goes on without end… not in human memory alone but her very life, her very body, her spirit. There is no closure in the life of Mary.
When the Assumption of Mary was proclaimed a tenet of faith, the psychiatrist Carl Jung was delighted. Jung saw in this feast the Church’s belief that our bodies are part of our redeemed whole. Once in a while, it is good to remind ourselves that are human bodies are good and are redeemed even as our souls and spirits are redeemed : the bodies of our family members, babies, loved ones, wrinkled bodies that are given character through length of days, women’s bodies, men’s bodies, bodies that don’t seem to work very well, young and energetic bodies. They are all good and worthy of honor.
Contrast this way of thinking and living with the dishonor we see in our contemporary world: carnage, pornography, sex slavery , the abuse of women and children. All of these and more tell us that human bodies are throwaways- worthless, “collateral damage,” for my use and abuse, a sales come-on. People the world over could turn this feast into an affirmation of the body’s goodness and to try making that a lasting, absorbing worldview.