Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
The Assumption is the oldest and most solemn feast of Mary. It is not mentioned in the New Testament but it has been celebrated for at least sixteen hundred years. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 referred to it. The Eastern Orthodox churches call it the “Falling Asleep of the All-Holy Mother of God” and celebrate it with even greater solemnity than we do.
The Assumption means that God who planned the very first moment of Mary’s life with such extraordinary care also planned her very last moment just as carefully. At the first moment of her life, by a very special privilege of God, Mary was preserved free from the stain of sin. At the last moment, by another very special privilege she was preserved free from the corruption of the grave. At the end of her life Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. (Whether or not she died first, is an open question.)
In the Immaculate Conception the emphasis is on the soul. In the Assumption the emphasis is on the body. Both are important. They were made for each other. At death, there is only a temporary separation. Body and soul will be reunited in the Resurrection. The Assumption means that the body that participated in the battle of life will also participate in the victory.
Today we are very aware of the importance and the vulnerability of the body. We diet and we exercise. We watch the level of cholesterol and blood pressure. We realize that the body is the vehicle of life. We live as long and as well as the body supports the soul. We know well that the body is the instrument of pleasure, pain and procreation.
But the body is also the instrument of knowledge. All the knowledge we have, even the most abstract, comes in originally from one of the five senses. The body is also the instrument of the communication of knowledge. No one can read our mind. We express our thoughts through the body, with language and signs. The body is also the instrument of grace. We receive the sacraments, the channels of grace, through the body. The body is also the instrument of worship. True worship is in spirit and truth. But it is expressed through the body in words, gestures, genuflections etc. The Liturgy is not only expressive of worship, it is creative of it.
What a magnificent creation is the body! It has a resident physician and a built-in pharmacy, the immune system. It can heal itself! How anyone who knows anything about the body could be an atheist is beyond me! The body has about 100 trillion cells. Did all of these cells come together by chance to form the cardiovascular, digestive and procreative systems? The great mystery is not disease, but health. How all of these glands, cells and organs work together so perfectly without our even thinking about it. When we think about it we mess it up.
But by Original Sin we have lost the preternatural gift of integrity whereby the lower faculties were under complete control of the higher faculties. We do not have integrity. There is a law in our body warring against the law of our mind. We do not have perfect control. The imperfect control we do have comes only after much discipline. Discipline is what we need most and want least. Today we have an inordinate, superficial care of the body. We are the cleanest, most hygienic, best groomed, sweetest smelling sinners the world has ever known. “Save the surface and you save all” is a good motto for a paint company but not for a Christian.
The lesson of the
Assumption is that the whole person, body and soul, participates in the
battle of life and the whole person, body and soul, will participate in
the victory. Let us ask Mary, Assumed into heaven, to obtain for us the
grace to respect and discipline the body so that one day we may join her
body and soul in heaven.
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