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"Grant us by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit…"

May 15, 2018

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The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Into Heaven

The Presence of the End Time

 

 

Questions to Ask Yourself

How does the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption into heaven affect your life? Does it increase your faith? In what? Your hope? In what? Your motivation? To do what?

 

Ideas to Consider

The Entrance Antiphon begins, “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman….” What does this image, applied to Mary assumed into heaven, signify? She is “clothed with the sun” — the enduring, unchangeable source of all light on earth. And she has “the moon beneath her feet.” The moon is the transitory, the changing light which is, in fact a reflection of the light of the sun. She has “a crown of twelve stars on her head” — which represent the twelve tribes of Israel continued in the Church built on the “twelve foundations” that are the Twelve Apostles.

 

Mary assumed into heaven, then, is a sign 1. of what is eternal and unchanging, 2. of what is temporary and changing or developing (as a “reflection” of God’s Truth and Goodness) and of the Church as both. The “pilgrim Church” exists as imperfect and developing in time. But as the “bride of Christ,” she is the embodiment of the eternal plan of God already realized and brought to perfection in heaven. Mary is recognized in the liturgy as God’s “sign of favor to the Church at its beginning and the promise of its perfection as the bride of Christ radiant in beauty.” The feast of the Assumption celebrates her as “the beginning and the pattern (imago) of the Church in its perfection.” In Mary the present and future are combined.[1]

 

And that is a key to Eucharist. The Mass is a making-present in time of an event that happened two thousand years ago and of the fulfillment of that event already realized in God’s time, in “heaven,” but which will not be realized on earth until Christ comes again in glory. In the Mass the “end time” is present in our time. We proclaim this in the preparation of the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil:

 

Christ yesterday and today.

the beginning and the end,

Alpha and Omega,

all time belongs to him.

and all the ages.

To him be glory and power

through every age for ever. Amen.

 

The feast of the Assumption, perhaps more than any other, draws our focus to the mystery of the past, present and future all united in the life of every Christian and made explicitly present in the celebration of Eucharist.

 

“Go up” — “She stands”

The contrast — and yet identification — of the “two times” is notable in the comparison of the liturgies for the Vigil Mass of the Assumption and the “Mass during the day.” The Vigil is more focused on the present time, the Day more on the “end time.” The Vigil more on movement toward, the Day more on the state of arrival.

 

In the Vigil Mass, 1Chronicles 15:3 to 16:2, the ”Responsorial (Psalm 112) calls for motion: “Lord, go up to the place of your rest....” In the Mass during the Day, Revelation 11:19 to 12:10, the ”Responsorial (Psalm 45) speaks of being there: “The queen stands at your right hand....”

 

In the Vigil reading the ark is in motion: “David assembled all Israel... to bring the ark to the place he had prepared.” But it does arrive: “They brought in the ark... and set it inside the tent....” In the Day reading, the woman (Church) is still “laboring to give birth,” but in the same passage she “gave birth to a son.” And the ark is settled. In heaven. “Then God’s temple in heaven opened, and in the temple could be seen the ark of his covenant.” Both have motion and arrival, but the emphasis is different. In Revelation we are celebrating the “end time.” It concludes: “Now have salvation and power come, the reign of our God and the authority of his Anointed One.” Yes, the Church is on the way, still giving birth. But the Church has also arrived. Christ reigns.

 

Thrice “Blessed”

In the Gospel readings Mary is called “blessed” three times, with three different meanings.

 

In the Vigil Gospel, Luke 11:27-28, a woman sees only the visible, human motherhood of Mary and cries out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you!” Jesus corrects her: “Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” There is a long way to go between seeing Mary as “blessed” because she is the mother of the human Messiah and understanding she is blessed as the Mother of God. For this we need to ponder his words as a “pilgrim Church” and grow into their meaning. This is blessing in motion.

 

In the Gospel for the Mass during the Day, Luke 1:39-56, Mary is first called “blessed” by Elizabeth, who recognizes Mary as blessed because, having “trusted that the Lord’s words would be fulfilled,” she has received Jesus present in her womb, although inchoatively as an embryo. This is blessing received.

 

But in Mary’s response she sees herself as blessed because God’s word is already fulfilled, not just initially by Jesus’ presence  in her, but definitively. She proclaims his final victory as a blessing fulfilled:

 

All generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me.... He has shown strength... He has scattered the proud.... He has brought down the powerful....He has filled the hungry.... He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.[2]

 

All this says that our own “blessing” as believers has three meanings at once:

  • First, it is the received blessing that is ours, right now, in our present time. We have the gift of divine life now through “Christ in us, the hope of glory.”

  • Second, it is that same blessing already brought to fullness in the eternity of the “end time,” where Jesus has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.... for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created... and in him all things hold together.... So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God..... for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

  • Third, it is that blessing active and growing in us, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature.” We possess this blessing still as  “little children, for whom [the Church is still] in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in us.[3]

 

St. Paul summed it up:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places....

 

He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless...

 

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ....

  • In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.

  • He has made known to us the mystery of his will... that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

  • In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will....

  • In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.

  • This is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.[4]

 

All of this is presented together in the one image of Mary assumed into heaven. She is the “sign of favor to the Church at its beginning and the promise of its perfection as the bride of Christ radiant in beauty.... the beginning and the pattern (imago) of the Church in its perfection.” In her we see ourselves already “in his kingdom, freed from the corruption of sin and death.” In Mary, assumed into heaven, we see the promise realized of our own resurrection and glory in heaven. The essential promise is Jesus, of course, the “sign of Jonah” and “first fruits of the dead.” But if we are ever tempted to think that “God raised Jesus up... because [being God himself] it was impossible for him to be held in its power,” but that our humanity is or can be so corrupt it is impossible for us, Mary’s Assumption gives the lie to that deception.[5]

 

Just as in the preservation of Mary from Original Sin (the Immaculate Conception: a necessary condition for Mary to be “Mother of God”), we see the preview and proof of God’s power to purify us totally of sin — as totally as Mary was preserved from it — so in the preservation of her body from disintegration after death (the Assumption: a necessary consequence of being “Mother of God”) we see the sign and proof of God’s power to restore our bodies after death. (The power to preserve is equally the power to purify and the power to restore).[6]

 

By extension we see Christ’s power to restore the body politic, disintegrated by injustice and violence. Hence Mary’s Assumption is a special “sign in the sky” for our time, when the Church has awakened to our imperative call to strive for social justice as “stewards of the kingship of Christ.” In her Christ appears as victorious over sin and all the consequences of sin on this earth. This gives social activists hope to persevere.

 

In both of these doctrines, Mary stands as the sign and perfect realization of the blessing that 1. is ours already in “earth time” by the reality of grace; 2. is already perfectly realized in “heavenly time” through Christ’s Ascension into glory; 3. but that we must nevertheless pursue as members of the “pilgrim Church” that is still in statu viae, for whom forward motion is a necessity of life.

 

Motion and Rest

In the Vigil reading, 1Corinthians 15:54-57, Paul is reminding the “pilgrim Church” of the good news “that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand.” This first “time” of the blessing received, is followed by the third “time” of the blessing as challenge: “through which also you are being saved” — an ongoing process. To enter into the perfection of the final, heavenly “time,” they must “hold firmly to the message proclaimed.” Their encouragement is that, “thanks be to God, [he has already] given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Therefore, Paul concludes, “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Keep moving.

 

In the Mass of the Day reading, 1Corinthians 15:20-27, he holds out the vision of the  fulfilled “end time” for encouragement:

 

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.... For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ... 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... authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

 

The image of Mary assumed into heaven is a sign and reminder of the “end time” already achieved, that it is still our duty and privilege to achieve.

 

In the Eucharist, Christ is present on the altar and given to us in Communion in “real time.” He is also present in “God’s time” (the eternal “now”) as dying on the cross, rising from the dead, and “seated at the right hand of the Father” to come again in triumph and glory. In Communion we are already present in preview at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb,” even while we receive the “waybread” that strengthens us for our journey to arrive there.

 

Insight

What does the Assumption of Mary tell you about your life on earth now?

 

Initiative

Be conscious during Eucharist of being in two time zones: earthly and heavenly.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See Vatican II, The Church, nos. 48, 51 and the prefaces for the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption. See also Ephesians 5:25-30; Revelation 19:1-9, 21:1-14.

[2] “Remembrance” is from the same root as anamnesis in the Mass, which means making present something from the past.

[3] Colossians 1:11-27; 3:1-4; Ephesians 4:11-13 in the 1970 New American Bible. The point of focus here in the Greek text is the andra teleion, Christ himself, head and members. Other translations have subtly shifted the focus to us. Galatians 4:19.

[4] Ephesians 1:1-7.

[5] Eucharistic Prayer IV; 1Corinthians 15:11-28; Luke 11:29-32; Acts 2:24.

[6] Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-8. See also Mary in an Adult Church, Knight, www.immersedinchrist.org .

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