Imagine that we’re sitting together in a cemetery …
I’ve had difficulty with the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – just as I’ve had difficulty with the entire idea of the “resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come”. After taking the leap of faith in becoming a Christian, I decided it was best not to tackle every difficult dogma as soon as possible, but to… well, have faith and consider each in good time. One day, as an assignment for an online theology course on Mary, I was asked to imagine teaching the dogma to a class. In doing so, I found myself seriously thinking about the glorified body of Jesus Resurrected and about the eternal destinies of every human person, starting with Mary, our mother in Christ. The vital importance of the Assumption then struck me and I saw it – and myself – in a whole new light. As we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Assumption, allow me take you with me on this journey of discovery…
Imagine that we’re sitting together in a cemetery, on the grass amid the gravestones. Perhaps this is where your grandparents are buried, or your parents, or sibling, a friend, a spouse, or your own child. As in most cemeteries, all of the bodies buried here are facing toward the east, which is the direction of the rising sun and the new day, in anticipation of the General Resurrection at the end of days. Their mortal remains have been buried here by their loved ones, with reverent prayers, in hopes that they will see them again, resurrected, soul and glorified body reunited, in the eternity of Heaven.
Where is Jesus buried?
Of course, the body of Jesus Christ is not buried anywhere, because he rose from the dead, his body glorified, and ascended into Heaven. But, the deceased bodies of holy Christian men and women, the simple and unremembered on earth as well as the great Saints, are buried in tombs and cemeteries all over the world. We can even go visit their graves or revere their relics.
Even the mortal remains of the Saints are lying in wait for the Resurrection, like the remains of the people buried here beneath this green lawn.
Where is the Blessed Virgin Mary buried?
If you can’t think of the answer to that question is because there is no “where”. This is the very definition of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “… the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This belief was held by early Christians, both East and West. In the Eastern traditions of the Catholic Church, the “Dormition” of Mary has been officially celebrated with a Holy Day on August 15 for nearly 1400 years. Because of this deeply rooted tenet of faith, as is written in the document Defining the Dogma of the Assumption, “… the Church has never looked for the bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the people…”. There is no grave, known or unknown, no tomb, no reliquary, where the mortal remains of the Blessed Virgin lie because nothing mortal of the Blessed Virgin remains.
What makes Mary so different?
If Jesus Christ is God-made-Man, then it is absolutely appropriate that he rose bodily from the dead, his body glorified, and then ascended into heavenly glory. Christ is fully human, sharing our human nature – but he is also fully divine, beng God Incarnate, after all. But, by believing that Christ’s mother was assumed bodily into Heaven, what are we saying about her? Mary isn’t God. She’s a human person like us, born of both a human mother and a human father, with no divine nature at all. Why aren’t her earthly remains lying somewhere, like those beneath us in the cemetery, like those of the other saints, awaiting the end of days and the General Resurrection?
By virtue of her being Christ’s own mother – the Mother of God – God gave the Blessed Virgin Mary special graces and privileges from the instant of her creation (Immaculate Conception) through the natural end of her earthly life. She who gave herself completely to divine will, saying to the angel of God, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” conceived, carried, birthed, and nursed the body of Our Lord. From her human flesh, God’s Word was made flesh and, therefore, she was granted the privilege of not suffering any decomposition of the flesh or corruption of the tomb. In other words, she didn’t have to wait until the end of days for “the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come”. This is her unique and holy privilege, by the grace of God.
The Assumption for Us
Imagine what it was like when Mary’s earthly life came to a close, the time of her “Dormition”, as the Eastern Churches call it. When the Assumption actually took place, I imagine that it was a very intimate event, private, loving, between a mother and a son. This aged woman, the beloved mother of our Savior, closed her earthly eyes for the last time and, by the tender grace of God, opened her glorified sight to eternity, her much loved body and soul intact in precious union.
Over the centuries, the reality of the Assumption has become for us, more and more, a tremendous hope and crucial reminder. She who is a human person, now shares bodily in the divine life for all eternity. This is the salvation and glory that is offered to each and every one of us through Christ our Lord. Mary, the Mother of all the living in Christ, went before us – and we hope to follow at the end of time. That is the hope that this cemetery, and every grave, encloses.
God Loves What He Has Created
The Assumption was declared Dogma in 1950, putting an official stamp and explanation on what Christians have believed for centuries. We may wonder why it took so long for the declaration to be made – but, we know that all things happen in God’s time. The proclamation came forth just after World War II, a terrible period of history when millions of human beings were systematically murdered, having been stripped and gassed, their dead bodies heaped in piles like cordwood. The graphic images of this massacre and desecration horrified the world – and the Catholic Church took action. With the proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Universal Church, founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, gave us a powerful reminder of the dignity and destiny of the human person – body and soul.
Our bodies are sacred, not like some kind of prison from which the soul has to escape, and not like some meaningless shell that we can do with as we wish. We are creatures of both flesh and spirit – body and soul as one person – and we believe that our souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies at the end of time. Therefore, it is right and just to respect human bodies. God loves what He has created. The human body is created by God and is not to be profaned, mutilated, abused, murdered, or desecrated in any way – for every human being is loved by God and destined for perfection, body and soul, in heavenly glory.
The Power of the Assumption Lived
As we continue our journey, imagine with me that we are now at an adult daycare facility. In such places as these we see, indeed, that human beings come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of physical and mental abilities. Whether impaired in cognition, slowed and drooling, or aged and decrepit, everybody is a human being. And if we are truly going to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, then we must remember that everybody, every body, is beautiful in the eyes of God, Who sees our heavenly glory….
What would happen if we saw each other that way? What if we truly remember that each human creature we encounter, whether mentally disabled or physically deformed, is exquisitely beautiful in the eyes of God? If we could see the heavenly glory that God intends for each one of them – for each one of us – we would be blown away by the intense radiance of that beauty, the eternal destiny of every human being redeemed and resurrected by the power of God’s love. And then maybe, just maybe, we would love one another as God loves us, with respect, forgiveness, affection, and generosity, seeing ourselves and our fellow human beings as God sees us and hopes for us.
© 2014 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.