Thursday, August 14, 2008

Are we making some assumptions about the Assumption?

Catholics tend to make a pretty big deal out of Mary. In fact, she’s the most revered non-divine human person in the Church. One particular belief Catholics hold about Mary (which is celebrated tomorrow) is the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven. Some people seem to think that Mary is thus being elevated into some goddess who takes herself into heaven. Actually, that’s one reason the Church uses the term “assumption” and not “ascension” in referring to Mary’s earthly departure. Only God can ascend into heaven. Mary, on the other hand, is assumed by God into heaven – it’s God’s power that brings her there, not hers.

Mary does share something in common with Jesus’ Ascension: she was taken into heaven with both her body and her soul. So far as we know definitively (we’re still not quite sure on Elijah), every other person ends their lives on earth through death and bodily corruption. Catholics believe that Mary and Jesus are the only two people in heaven with both their bodies and the souls. In other words, Mary and Jesus represent our future – even the saints in heaven long for the resurrection, the fruits of which have only been applied to one man and one woman: Jesus and Mary.

This is because Catholic believe that Jesus and Mary are the New Adam and the New Eve.

Catholics hold dear a prophesy called the protoevangelium, or “first Gospel” which is found in Genesis 3:15. In this prophesy, God tells the Devil: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head while you bruise his heal.” Christians from the first centuries on have seen this as a prophesy about Jesus, Mary, the Devil, and the Cross. Jesus, the offspring of “the woman” (Mary), will defeat the Devil – though his heel will be bruised. This bruising is of course a reference to the Cross.

St. Paul understood Jesus to be the fulfillment of Adam (see 1 Corinthians 15:45 and Romans 5:14). The Gospel writers did the same when referring to Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane the night before he died. Just as Adam brought all to death in the Garden of Eden, Jesus’ final victory over death begins in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mary, however, was also seen as a fulfillment of Eve. In the second century, St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote: “…the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith” (circa 180 AD).

Moreover, the prophesy of Genesis 3:15 gives us a better understanding of why Jesus called Mary “woman” all the time. Mary is “the woman” of Genesis 3:15. She is also the “woman” of Revelation 12, who is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1).

What’s most important is that Mary and Jesus, as the New Adam and New Eve, are the perfections of both. While Mary is in no way a goddess (she’s just as human as you and me) she, like Jesus, would not share in original sin – just as Adam and Eve were not created in a state of sin. This is also a part of the prophesy, for when God said there would be “enmity” between the Devil and Mary, the word used means a total separation of Mary from the Devil.

In other words, for Mary to have been created in a state of sin, she would not have been in a state of total enmity with the Devil as God prophesied. Speaking of sin and its relationship to the Devil, Jesus told some of his followers: “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works of Abraham… You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies’” (John 8:41, 44).

Sin allies us with the Devil, making us his instruments of evil. Only Christ can free us of our sins – and only Christ ultimately, if mysteriously, could protect His mother from sin. St. Paul teaches us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), but according to God’s prophesy, Mary would be free from sin. Thus at the end of Mary’s life, she would not have experienced a kind of death similar to us but would rather share in her Son’s glory in an intimate way.

According to St. Paul we, too, will share in the glory of Christ: “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). St. Paul here connects glory with suffering in Christ. Now if any human suffered, Mary suffered. From the Annunciation when she was made to appear as an unwed mother, to the Presentation when she was told that in the process of Jesus’ victory a sword would pierce her heart as well as his (Luke 2:35). Ultimately she would find herself witnessing the murder of not only her Son, but her God as well.

If we share in Jesus’ glory for the little suffering that befalls us, how much more so does Mary share in His glory? On the feast of the Assumption, we celebrate the glory bestowed upon Mary through the mighty promise of God and look forward with eager anticipation to the glory we shall receive at the resurrection of the dead and the everlasting life given by standing in the presence of God, forever and ever. Amen.

For more info on Mary, see an older post I wrote called: Why God HAD to protect Mary from sin.

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