Lift Up Your Hearts: Glorious Humanity

This weekend St. Mary of the Assumption is celebrating its feast day.

Usually each Parish is named after either a saint, or a mystery of faith. Our parish is dedicated to Mary the Mother of God, and in particular to the mystery of the Assumption of Mary. This is the celebration of Mary being taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life. Every year the entire Church celebrates this mystery on the 15th of August.

I know that many of you may not quite understand why we celebrate Our Lady, or where the tradition of the Assumption comes from. First of all, I would like to clarify that Catholics do not worship Mary. This is a very common misconception, which comes from ones definition of worship. For Catholics the act of worship belongs to God alone and always includes a sacrifice. If you look throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the worship offered to God always included some form of sacrifice; mostly animal sacrifice. Our worship is an offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass wherein we are representing to God the Father the fruits of Christ’s Cross; that is, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus. So really what we are offering to the Father, is the worship that Jesus offered to the Father in order that we might be saved. In the Eucharist we receive the fruits of this worship so that the saving effects of Christ’s offering can take place in our hearts. Prayer to Mary, or the saints for that matter, would be akin to asking a member of your family to pray for you. Only we are asking members of our heavenly family.

Where does Mary and her Assumption come into play here? So this mystery that we celebrate, and every mystery that we celebrate with regards to Mary is actually more a celebration of God and His saving work. In Mary we see a human being who, as the angel Gabriel states in Luke’s Gospel, is one who has been filled and transformed completely by grace (See Luke 1:28). I absolutely love the Canticle prayer that Mary proclaims in Luke 1:46-55. It is also called the Magnificat because Mary begins this canticle by saying “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he that is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-49). What I have discovered is that everything that the Lord has done for Mary, in Mary and through Mary magnifies Him. It all gives Him glory, because he took our lowly humanity and, with Mary’s yes, raised it to be worthy of receiving God the Son into the world in the mystery of the Incarnation; God made flesh in Jesus Christ. Blessed John Duns Scotus, in speaking of the Incarnation of Christ and of his saving work, says the following; “Christ is the most perfect mediator. Therefore he exercised the highest degree of mediation in favor of another person. Now he could not be a most perfect mediator and could not repair the effects of sin to the highest degree if he did not preserve his Mother from original sin.” This means that God chose to preserve Mary from original sin to show that Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross was a perfect sacrifice and took effect perfectly in the soul of His Mother.

The Lord truly did do great things for His Mother Mary and all of them point to His glory and to what the Lord desires for the human race. What the Lord shows us in His Mother is a humanity completely redeemed and glorious. The church therefore teaches that Mary was preserved from original sin by the merits of her Son’s Cross. Is not the grace of the Cross for all time, and cover all time? The Lord, being the creator and master of time and, therefore, being outside of time is able to apply the graces of His Cross to those who even came before Him. He also can and did preserve His mother from original sin. This privilege that was given to Mary allows her among all women to be the Mother of God. Since she was filled with the Holy Spirit and lived the word of God perfectly, the Word of God literally was able to become flesh is her womb.

The tradition of Mary’s Assumption was even more commonly believed in the early Church than the mystery of her Immaculate Conception. In fact, there are multiple stories about her Assumption in many different languages from the 6th century. The earliest discovered is from the 3rd century. The tradition goes that Mary fell asleep and was taken and placed in a tomb in Jerusalem. Three days after, the disciples went to the tomb, but did not find her body there. In place of her body they found fragrant lilies. The earliest Christians then believed that Her body had been taken up to heaven. As Mary was kept from original sin and preserved her holiness all through her life, she did not have to undergo the corruption of the body due to sin. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). If she had no sin, there would be no reason for her body to undergo corruption. While the rest of humanity was not given these privileges, the gifts that God gave to Mary, show us the height to which humanity was originally called. She also shows us that Christ came to make us sharers in the fulness of divine and glorious life in heaven. We believe, as we say in the Creed, in “the resurrection of the body.” This means that our physical bodies will be glorified and will be taken to heaven and reunited with our souls. On August 15th we invite you to say a prayer for St. Mary of the Assumption Parish and to celebrate the amazing gifts that God has given to Mary that point the world to His glory and the glory that he wants to share with all of humanity.