In 1950, after the devastation of World War II including the Holocaust of 6 million Jews and millions more in the Nazi death camps and the use of atomic bombs against largely civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pope Pius XII declared as a doctrine of faith the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Her body did not suffer corruption.
In one way this feast is an antidote to war and violence and to all who would despise or use the flesh through rape and human trafficking.
The Assumption of Mary is an affirmation of the body. We are saved, body and soul. We shall all be raised up on the last day; Mary, in the eternity of God, has already been raised up.
Belief that Mary was taken up into heaven and that her body did not suffer the putrefaction of the flesh is an ancient belief in both East and West. The Orthodox celebrate today as the Dormition of the Virgin.
There are innumerable icons of this. In the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome there is a beautiful rendition of the icon in a mosaic.
There is another in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
God has come to save the whole person, body and soul and Mary is the first person to experience this fully.
The fleshiness of Mary and Christ is something we might want to gloss over. But the early church, declaring Mary the Mother of God, emphasized that Jesus was truly human and truly God.
And so in Italy I saw a number of images of Mary breast-feeding, one of my favorite on the façade of the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
As I prayed Vespers last night from Benedictine Daily Prayer, the hymn praised Mary,
Who once gave nurture from your breast,
To God, with pure maternal love.
We are called today to remember the gift of the body, to respect it, for the Word became flesh from the flesh of the Virgin Mary.
As Thomas Merton out it in New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 173:
If Mary is believed to be assumed into heaven, it is because we too are one day, by the grace of God, to dwell where she is. If human nature is glorified in her, it is because God desires it to be glorified in us too, and it is for this reason that His Son, taking flesh, came into the world.
In all the great mystery of Mary, then, one thing remains most clear: that of herself she is nothing, and that God has for our sakes delighted to manifest His glory and His love in her.
It is because she is, of all the saints, the most perfectly poor and the most perfectly hidden, the one who has absolutely nothing whatever that she attempts to possess as her own, that she can most fully communicate to the rest of us the grace of the infinitely selfless God. And we will most truly possess Him when we have emptied ourselves and become poor and hidden as she is, resembling Him by resembling her.