Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Fourth Glorious Mystery

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (15:20-26, 51-58)
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet."...
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

I must admit, it took me some time to figure out what text of Scripture I'd use to begin this meditation. Up until now, each of the Rosary Mysteries comes directly from the Gospels and, in the case of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, from the Acts of the Apostles. However, the last two mysteries, though not without some biblical support, are not explicitly recorded in Scripture. They are, rather, part of Apostolic Tradition. This, of course, does not mean that they are "unbiblical" in the sense of contradicting truths of the Bible (I contend that no element of Catholic dogma contradicts the Bible). Instead, I would say that the mysteries of Mary's Assumption into Heaven and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven are "unbiblical" simply in the same way that cars, television, and the computer at which you are sitting to read this are "unbiblical". That is, these things are post-biblical, coming to be only after the Bible's many books had been composed, or else (as is possibly the case with at least John's Gospel), they were not mentioned simply because they weren't part of the story being told. The fact is, the only book of the Bible likely to have been written after Mary's Assumption does in fact seem to allude to that fact, but since I had already decided to use the text of Revelation 12 for our final meditation, I thought it would be redundant to use it here, too.

And so, I was left wondering what text I should use. Realising, after much fretting and prayer, that the Feast of the Assumption (known as the Dormition of Mary in the Eastern Churches) dates back to around the 7th Century (based on traditions dating back as far as the 4th, or even the 3rd centuries), I wondered what texts were part of its liturgy. And so, here in our meditation, I have used the Second Reading for both the Vigil (August 14th) and the Feast itself (August 15th), since they are from the same chapter of 1 Corinthians.

In this text, St. Paul teaches and reminds the Corinthians (and us) about certain key realities surrounding death. The first thing, primarily, is that death is not the end. Christ, he says, has been resurrected! Through His innocent suffering and death, and by His resurrection, He has overcome death! Paul calls Him the "firstfruits" of those who have died. Since all of us were born dead spiritually--without grace in our souls--because of Adam's sin, we all are fated to die physically as a result of both his original sin and our own actual sins. But now Christ has paid the penalty for sin, and His resurrection is the guarantee that those of us who are united to Christ in baptism, and have lived our lives in obedience to Him, shall also rise up with Him at the last day! This is what Paul is saying when he tells us that death is the last enemy to be destroyed.

This is our hope as Christians, that just as Christ has been resurrected, so He too will resurrect us, reuniting our souls to our bodies! And as though His own resurrection of divine-and-human flesh was not guarantee enough of our own resurrected merely human bodies, Christ has given us a second foretaste of this future resurrection through the wonderful honour which He paid to His Mother, by assuming her into heaven to be with Him. For Mary's presence in heaven is different from the other saints in this way--that while they are there in spirit only, and still await the resurrection of their bodies, Mary has been brought to heaven both body and soul!

And while Mary's Assumption into Heaven is a wonderful sign of hope for us of our own future resurrection and glorification, her assumption primarily is Jesus' filial act of honour towards her. Moreover, this privilege follows logically and fittingly on that other, greater and primary privilege of Mary: her Immaculate Conception. For Mary, as we discussed in our first Joyful Mystery, was protected by a singular act of God's Grace from the stain of original sin. That is, Mary was the first human being since Adam and Eve to have been created in a state of grace! And unlike Adam and Eve, who nevertheless threw away that grace, Mary treasured it and remained in it her whole life.

In our reading, St. Paul tells us that death came about through Adam's sin, and that the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law (1 Cor 15:56). Since through Christ's victory (v. 57), applied to Mary in a preemptive fashion, she was able to keep the Law through His grace and remained free from sin, then the penalty of sin, which is death, could have no power over her. And so it was, as the official declaration of this dogma states, that Mary, "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory (Pius XII: Munificentissimus Deus)".

And so, Mary was taken up into Heaven, to dwell with her Son, in a place of honour. There she reigns as Queen Mother to Christ the King, interceding for us to Him, as King Solomon's mother did with him on behalf of Adonijah (1 Kings 2:19-20), imploring graces for us. Let us then honour her as Christ Himself has, and proclaim with the Church the words of the Canticle:
My dove is my only one,
perfect and mine.
She is the darling of her mother,
the favourite of the one who bore her.
Girls have seen her and proclaimed her blessed,
Queens and concubines have sung her praises,
'Who is this arising like the dawn,
fair as the moon,
resplendent as the sun,
formidable as an army?' (Song of Songs 6:9-10)
Mother Mary, clothed with the sun, with the moon under your feet, continue to inspire us with hope and grace, toward the work of the Lord, knowing that it is never in vain.


(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)


Hidden One said...

Two thumbs up.

Joni said...

I have never heard it explained so beautifully and articulately. As you know, I come from a background similar to yours. This was one of the hardest things for me to deal with, as I went through the process of becoming Catholic. How do I "deal" with Mary? While I admit to my continued need to grow in understanding, I also admit to praying to her more frequently, asking her intercessions on behalf of myself and those I love.

My sons have developed the practice of praying a "Hail Mary" every time we hear an ambulance siren.

On a side note, please keep our priest, Fr. Joe, in your prayers. He is in critical condition, following complications from double pneumonia.

Gregory said...

Thank you, Joni.
Mary was the hardest part for me becoming Catholic as well. In a group on Facebook, I just shared that aspect of my testimony with a Protestant who was asking about Mary. Maybe I'll post it here in the next Open Forum (which will come after the last article of the Rosary series, which I'm planning to write after I finish commenting here...).

I love your sons' practice. I think I'll have to adopt it.

And I will definitely pray for Fr. Joe! :(