Monday, August 19, 2013

Solemnity of the Assumption– At the Mass during the Day

I fondly remember an inscription on the baldachino standing over the altar at the seminary I went to, St. Mary’s, in Baltimore, MD.  A baldachino is an architectural element, a canopy structure on four pillars.  It is the first phrase of Mary’s canticle of praise to God that we heard in our Gospel- Magnificat anima mea Dominum – My soul magnifies the Lord.  At every daily Mass at the seminary, going back to when I first entered seminary in August of 2005, I read that phrase and pondered its meaning.  What does it mean?  I think this is both a statement of humility and a statement of victory.  Mary does not magnify herself by her virtues.  She sings, “my soul magnifies the Lord.”  And her entire soul, her entire life joyfully proclaims to all generations our Lord’s conclusive victory over sin and death.

Due to the fall of our first parents, sin took hold over the beginning and the end of human life.  At his conception, man inherits original sin and what we call concupiscence or the tendency toward sin.  And at his very end he must suffer the wages of sin which are death and the decomposition of his body.  But, the Blessed Virgin Mary shines forth as a beacon from God’s heavenly kingdom, showing us even now, before Christ’s second coming, that he is completely victorious over sin and death.  The Lord, by Mary’s Immaculate Conception, saved her from original sin before she could be sullied by it, thus showing his victory over the beginning of life.  By freeing her from the snares of concupiscence, he prepared her to live a life free from actual committed sin.  And by assuming her body and soul into heaven he showed his victory over the end of life.  Mary was saved completely from the dominion and the bonds of sin and death.

When Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in 1950 he defined it this way: “The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death” (Munificentissimus Deus).  This is what Catholics must believe.  But what does this have to do with us?

Mary’s Assumption is the guarantee that those who share in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, will share in his victory.  Some of the early Church Fathers differ on this point, but many taught that Mary did die.  But, the key difference between her death and ours is that our death will happen by necessity because we are fallen and sinful.  On the other hand, Mary’s death was not by necessity because she had no sin, whether that be original sin or committed sin.  Her death was a grace from God so that she might be conformed to her Son even in his death.  And her death lasted only an instant, in order to serve this purpose and in order that she might continue to be conformed to him in eternal life.  Her body was joined to her soul in heaven at the moment of her death, so that it would not know decay, and so that she would not have to wait for her Son’s second coming, wherein all of our bodies will be joined to our souls in heaven, hell, or purgatory.  Her body and soul were immediately assumed into heaven.

By sharing in Christ’s sufferings at the foot of the cross, and by sharing in his death, she proved to us that Jesus keeps his promises: she shares in his heavenly glory.  If we humble ourselves, we too will be exalted.  If we offer up our sufferings, great and small, to the Father and die to ourselves, our passions, and our own will, each and every day, we too will share in Christ’s victory and glory alongside our Blessed Mother who reflects the glory of her Son every time we look to her.  Today we can say with St. Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18).

That inscription in the seminary chapel helps us reflect on Mary's humility and victory.  One final reflection today that may be easily overlooked, is what the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary also teaches us about the honor due to our father and mother.  Jesus followed the fourth commandment - Honor Thy Father and Mother -  to its ultimate degree by bringing his mother, body and soul, quickly to his side at the moment of her death.  He crowned her Queen of heaven and earth.  As Mary described in her canticle of praise from our Gospel, “The Almighty has done great things for me; … [he] has lifted up the lowly.”  How do we honor our father and mother, especially as they approach old age or death?  Do we place them in nursing homes and then forget them or abandon them?  Do we “honor” them by squabbling over money or inheritance?  Jesus Christ is calling us today to follow his example, to honor our father and mother as he did at the Assumption and Crowning of His Blessed Mother.

Let us pray that through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth, we will not magnify ourselves by our faith and works, but instead always magnify our Lord.  Let us pray that through her intercession we will share in his suffering and death and so share in his glory.  That through her intercession we will honor our father and mother and give them the crown that they deserve.  Finally, let us pray, that through her intercession we too will be brought swiftly to the side of our Lord when we die.

No comments: