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Christ the first fruits

Posted August 15, 2020

Feast of the Assumption

Today we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  For us Roman Catholics the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is a dogma to be believed in as an essential part of our faith.  It was defined as such in 1950 by Pope Pius XII in the document Munificentissimus Deus (‘God most bountiful’).  In essence, Pope Pius affirms that ‘the Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory’.

Two of the major themes in Pope Pius’ encyclical are: first, that what happened to Mary at her Assumption happened in virtue of Jesus’ resurrection; and, second, that what has happened to Mary will, in its essential features, also happen to us.  Indeed, one of the Pope’s purposes in defining this dogma was that ‘we may all see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined’.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church has put it more recently: ‘The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.’

Our Protestant brethren have always been ill at ease with the dogma of the Assumption, largely because, they say, there is no Scriptural evidence for it: nothing is said in the New Testament about what happened to Mary when she ‘completed the course of her earthly life’.  But when seen as Jesus’ resurrection reverberating in our humanity, the Assumption surely goes to the heart of the New Testament message.  It is the flesh-and-blood enactment of chapter 15 of First Corinthians, which the Church has chosen as the second Reading for today’s Mass.  In that famous chapter St Paul meditates on the risen Christ as the first fruits of a new humanity.  Mary’s Assumption is the realization also of St Paul’s proclamation in Romans that the God ‘who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies also, through the Spirit dwelling in you’.  The  Assumption of Mary is the river refusing to be pent up in its source, the sun’s mighty heat refusing to be locked into the sun.

So while the Assumption is Mary’s feast supremely (for the full effects of Jesus’ resurrection are all there complete in her person from the moment she ‘completed the course of her earthly life’), it is also our feast, for the waters of that river are inexhaustible, and the light and heat of that sun must one day transfigure us all.

May we experience something of this transfiguration, of this glorious Assumption, in our Eucharist today.  Ah yes! life is tough and times are bad.  But bad times and emptiness and disappointment have always been the matrix of Christian hope.  Some would say that Christian hope is an escape from reality.  Too right it is: but it is an escape into a deeper reality.  St Paul tells the Corinthians: ‘This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.’

I have recently been reading again about those truly awful final days that Thomas More spent in the Tower.  For all his distress, he was able to write to his family, through his daughter Meg: ‘I beseech Him make you all merry in the hope of heaven.’  That’s what this Eucharist and this Feast of the Assumption is meant to do for us: To make us all merry in the hope of heaven.  Or, as Pope Pius put it, rather more prosaically: To ‘make our belief in our own resurrection stronger, and render it more effective.’

Fr Tom Deidun

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