Tag Archives: Assumption

Mary and the resurrection of the body

In [Mary’s] glorified body, together with the Risen Christ,
part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty.
Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 241

 Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary into heaven; the Orthodox Church calls this feast the Dormition of the Virgin.

Fresco, Santa Maria Maggiore, Roma

Fresco, Santa Maria Maggiore, Roma

We celebrate the power of Christ’s resurrection and the hope, expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, for “the resurrection of the body” in this feast where Mary shares the heavenly presence of God in both her body and her soul.

It is a feast to celebrate God’s work in bringing creation to fulfillment.

As opposed to a body-denying spirituality, we affirm that God will raise up our mortal bodies and Mary is the first to experience this.

It is therefore a fitting feast for a world that often misuses creation for immediate ends, for a world that often makes the body merely an object of pleasure and thus demeans the body of women, for a world that looks down on and despises the poor.

Mary is a sign of God’s love for the earth, for women, and for the poor.

In his latest encyclical Pope Francis makes this plain:

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power.

Pope Francis is not the first to note this. In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton wrote:

That God should assume Mary into heaven … is the expression of the divine love for humanity, and a very special manifestation of God’s respect for His creatures, His desire to do honor to the beings He has made to His own image, and most particularly His respect for the body which was destined to be the temple of His glory….If human nature is glorified in her, it is because God desired to it to be glorified in us too, and it is for this reason that His Son, taking flesh, came into the world.

God wishes to be glorified in creation and in the human body and, I would add, especially in the body of woman. As theologians Ivonne Gebara and Maria Clara Bingemer have noted:

Mary’s Assumption restores and reintegrates women’s bodiliness into the very mystery of God.

So today we honor Mary as we praise a God who is not afraid of the body, who is not afraid of creation, but was made flesh in the womb of a poor woman and lived among us, enjoying the creation.

So today we honor Mary but we also praise a God who is not afraid of the body, who is not afraid of creation, but was made flesh in the womb of a poor woman and lived among us, enjoying the creation.

The paradox of Mary’s nothingness

…[Mary’s] highest privilege is her poverty
and her greatest glory is that she is most hidden,
and the source of all her power is that she is as nothing
in the presence of Christ, of God.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Today we Catholics celebrate the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Among the Orthodox, this is the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin.

The Dormition Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

The Dormition, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

The Gospel, the account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, closes with Mary’s Canticle, the Magnificat.

Mary is the Lord’s handmaid, God’s lowly servant. But she connects that status with the grand revolutionary vision of a God

who scatters the proud-hearted
who casts the mighty from the thrones
and raises up the lowly,
who fills the starving with good things
and sends the rich away empty.

How can one whose “chief glory is in her nothingness,” according to Thomas Merton, be connected with such an upside-down vision of the world?

That’s the paradox.

Nothingness puts oneself at the service of a radical transformation.

God uses the poor and weak of the world to confound the strong.

Just because we are lowly doesn’t meant that our vision should be limited.

Our lowliness can open us to the wide vision of God and put us at the service of God’s Reign.

That lowliness recognizes our limitations but give us hope that our limitedness can help God transform ourselves and the world.

The fleshiness of the Virgin Mary

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.

IF

 

There is another in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere

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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.

DSC01601

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.