Immersed in Christ: August 15, 2020
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
A Sign in the Sky
The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
(Responsorial: Psalm 45)
What does the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption say about you? About the Church’s ministry on earth?
The Entrance Antiphon begins, “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman….” Each one of the Church’s six defined doctrines about Mary makes her a sign that says something about Jesus and about us. How many can you identify? 1
The Life-giving Church
Revelation 11:19 to 12:10 invites imagination through its imagery. Tradition sees the “woman” as the Church. If we look at her as ministering as St. Paul understood ministry, then by helping to communicate God’s divine life to us, she is bringing Christ to birth and to “full stature” in all the members of his body on earth.2
Since in the Gospel of John, light and life are almost synonymous, we can see the Church as life-giving because she is “clothed with the sun,” that is, with the light of Christ; the “splendor of truth.” 3
Some say the “moon under her feet” represents the transient nature of this world in which, like the phases of the moon, nothing is permanent. The Church, however, will last forever, and “the gates of Hades [the abode of the dead] will not prevail against it.” The Church tramples underfoot the threat of the transitory. For this reason her ministry is not characterized by fear of change. The Church can deal with change, thrives on it, dances on it. Through change the “pilgrim Church” loses nothing, but grows and develops.4
This is in part because the source of her stability is a “crown of twelve stars.” Her teaching has its origin in the revealed books of the twelve tribes of Israel, whose “names are written on her gates,” and whose history is continued in her. And her roots go back in unbroken continuity to the Twelve historical witnesses to Christ, the “twelve apostles of the Lamb,” whose names are written on the “twelve courses of stone” of her historical foundations. The light of the Church appears anew in every dawn, shining through the atmosphere and cultural conditions of each new age, but it is the same eternal light that shone undistorted in the Word made flesh, that the “darkness cannot overcome.” For that reason her ministers, like “faithful stewards” do not fear to bring out and recognize as her “treasure” both “what is new and what is old.” 5
The Church is “in pain” as she “labors to give birth.” Jesus said she would be:
You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.
Ministry has its price. But the price is swallowed up in its reward.
The Mystery of Mary
In Luke 1:39-56 Mary is a “sign” for Elizabeth, because “the baby stirred in her womb” and her own heart leaped with joy at the sight of “the mother of her Lord” coming to her. The “Lord” to whom she responded was, in fact, God himself, whether she knew this or not. And when people respond to Christian ministers, whether they know it or not, it is the divine life and action of God in the minister that they are sensing.
Mary, too, “knew without knowing” that the one within her would be exciting hearts forever. And that, in some way, her part in his saving activity would continue: “All ages to come shall call me blessed.”
Through Mary the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” came into the world. The “mystery of her ministry” (and ours) is that God asked her, not just to do something for him, but to be something for him—and for the human race—forever. She did not just give birth to God’s Son; she became the “Mother of God.” For as long as she lived. As long as she continued in existence. Forever.
And in this role she continues to cooperate in bringing Christ to birth and to “full stature” in those who become “children of God” and her children by “becoming Christ.” All who are incorporated into the body of Christ the Son by Baptism become true children of his Father and of Mary, his mother. Jesus declared it from the cross:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”
If we are blind to mystery, we will say Jesus just meant Mary should treat John as her son. And that God is “our Father” only in the sense that he treats us as if we were his children. And that in Baptism we are somehow saved by Christ without actually “becoming” Christ. None of this holds up theologically, because if we did not actually die in Christ, and go down into the grave in him, as Paul says we did, our sins are just “forgiven”—which does not change us—but not “taken away.” Then we are not intrinsically changed, not really purified, or truly guiltless, but God just chooses to treat us as if we were because of what Jesus did.” That is not what we believe.7
The mystery of our redemption is that by becoming Christ at Baptism, we became true members of the body that was “made sin” on the cross, truly died in that body with Jesus, truly had our sins “taken away” by that death which cancelled our life’s history of sin, truly became the “righteousness of God,” truly rose in Christ as a “new creation,” as true sons and daughters of the Father “in the Son” to carry on his messianic mission as true prophets, priests and kings in him who is uniquely the Prophet, the Priest and the King. And we are truly children of Mary, who is truly Mother of God and our mother.8
This is the mystery of Mary. And it is our mystery, because Mary is called in the Preface for the feast of the Assumption “the beginning (initium) and pattern (imago) of the Church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your children on their pilgrim way.” This sentence is loaded! It means Mary is the preview and the promise of what the whole Church—all of us—will be when all have been made perfect in Christ at the end of the world. What we see and celebrate in her, we will see and experience in ourselves for all eternity. Her mystery teaches us ours.
The Sign in the Sky
1Corinthians 15:20-27 tells us Jesus rose from the dead as the “first in line” of all who are going to rise. His resurrection is the cause, promise and guarantee of ours. It is because he rose that we know for certain we will.
Just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ.
The mystery here is that to “belong to Christ” means to be Christ by belonging to his body in the same living way that our hands and feet belong to ours. That means that in the mystery of God’s timeless reality, when Jesus rose after his crucifixion, we rose in him. We are already the “risen body” of Jesus, and he is alive and acting in us now as in his own body. But imperfectly, because he has not yet grown to “full stature” in us through our total surrender of all we are to his guidance within us.
But we will. The “supplementary” sign of it is Mary’s Assumption. Sin is what brought humanity under the power of death. God raised up Jesus because, being God, “it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” 9 Mary, though human, was preserved from the power of sin; so God made it evident by taking her body into heaven that she was also preserved from the power of death. By the same realistic, mystical logic, we who have been delivered from the power of sin see in her Assumption the sign that we will be delivered from the power of death by resurrection. That means that, like Mary, we will at last be delivered totally from the power of sin as well. They go together. Mary’s Assumption is the “sign in the sky” that promises total victory over sin and death.
Mary is the “mirror of the Church.” What she is, we will become.
Don’t set limits to God’s power or your surrender.
1 You will find the answers in my book, Mary in an Adult Church, available through www.immersedinchrist.com.
2 Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 4:11-13. 3 See John 1:4; 8:12 and John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth, chapter one. This chapter is mind-boggling.
4 Matthew 16:18; Revelation 1:18; 20:13-14. 5 See Revelation 21:12-14; John 1:5-14.
6 John 16:20-21;33. 7 John 19:26; Romans 6:3-8; Matthew 23:27. 8 2Corinthians 5:17,21; John 1:29; Galatians 6:14-15. 9 Acts 2:24.