During his last Supper with his disciples, Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit which would lead them, (his disciples), to the whole truth, (Jn 16:13). Pope Pius XII relied on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of All Saints in 1950 when he formally defined the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as an infallible truth that is consistent with the deposit of faith that goes back to the apostles. The doctrine of Assumption states that Mary, at the end of her earthly existence, was taken body and soul to heaven to reign with her Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Mary was able to achieve this glorification because she was the Mother of the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Council of Ephesus in 431AD, had declared that Mary was ‘Theotokos’ – mother of God. Bishop Nestorius and his followers had argued that Mary was only the ‘mother of the Christ’. This claim denied the central teaching of the Gospel that in Christ, God became our Emmanuel, that is, the Word took flesh and dwelt among us, (Jn 1:14). Hence, the Council of Ephesus clarified as follows: “If anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account the holy virgin is the “Theotokos” (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the word of God become flesh by birth) let him be anathema.”
The teaching of the Council of Ephesus was Christological, that is, it focused on who Christ is. He is both human and Divine, but the two natures are united in His Person. We recall that during the visitation, when Elizabeth saw Mary, she gave loud cry and said, “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Thus, the baby, (Jesus), in the womb of Mary was truly God and truly human!
The second Reading, (1 Cor 15:20-26), stated that the resurrection of Jesus Christ made him the “the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep”, hence, “Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order.” Our faith teaches that when our earthly existence comes to an end, our soul is either united with God, or goes to purgatory or lost forever for very bad people. However, our bodies remain here until the Second Coming of Christ when they shall arise and be united with the souls in a transformed form.
We read in the book of Daniel that, “’At that time Michael will arise — the great Prince, defender of your people. That will be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. When that time comes, your own people will be spared — all those whose names are found written in the Book. “Of those who are sleeping in the Land of Dust, many will awaken, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace”, (Dan 12:1-2).
In the instance of Mary, because of her special role in the economy of salvation as the Mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and the Mother of the Church, Jesus did not allow her body to await the end of time after her earthly existence as shall be our lot. He bestowed the fruits of his Resurrection immediately upon her by assuming her body and soul to heaven.
Today’s Gospel presented Mary as a woman of strong faith. Elizabeth while prompted by the Holy Spirit said of Mary, “’Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’” Jesus also underscored Mary’s faith when he responded to the woman who raised her voice in a crowd in praise of the woman that gave birth to him, (Jesus), and nursed him, that “more blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it”. Thus, Mary, as the new Eve, heard the word of God and kept it when she responded to Archangel Gabriel, that she was the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to her as the angel had said. In this way, she cancelled the disobedience of the first Eve, who though heard the word of God, failed to keep it by eating the forbidden fruit with Adam her husband.
Mary understood that the poor have a soft spot in God’s heart as she was a beneficiary. She was a young and ordinary woman who the Lord, in his goodness, chose to become the Mother of the Messiah. She acknowledged this in her song of praise, “Magnificat”, when she sang, “’My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name….” Thus, the initiative was the Lord’s and his only. And the mercy shown to Mary was not for her benefit only but a way to bring to fruition the promise of everlasting homeland that God made to our father in faith, Abraham and his descendants.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, we pray that through the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, we may have a share in the Kingdom of Christ. Amen.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp