J.M.J. Although the actual dogma of Blessed Mary's Assumption body and soul into Heaven (especially commemorated by the Church every August 15) was solemnly defined a relatively short 66 years ago, nevertheless the belief in this fascinating mystery has been cherished and upheld by the Clergy, Religious and Lay Faithful for centuries.
When Pope Pius XII declared on November 1, 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, "that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory," he readily acknowledged that "various testimonies, indications, and signs of this common belief of the Church are evident from remote times down through the course of the centuries."
In particular, the Pontiff pointed to among other notable theologians a priest and subsequent Doctor of the Church who contributed significantly to the Church's understanding of Our Lady's reunion with her divine Son. Saint John Damascene (c. 690-749), venerated as "the last of the Greek Fathers," was hailed by Pope Pius as "an outstanding herald of this traditional truth."
What was so spectacular about this doctrine's analysis bequeathed to millions of believers by Saint John of Damascus?
In two of his extant homilies, he compared Mary's bodily Assumption to "her other prerogatives and privileges," thereby demonstrating in eloquent fashion why this teaching in no way contradicted right reason and the tenets of Divine Revelation.
Composed more than 1,200 years ago, the panegyric authored by
Saint John still moves hearts today and
provides admirable instruction pertaining to the Madonna's entrance into
everlasting bliss. Listen to the wisdom of this Saint from the East:
"It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a Child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles.
"It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to Himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her Heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in the act of giving birth to Him, should look upon Him as He sits with the Father.
"It was fitting that God's Mother should possess what belongs to the Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the Handmaid of God."
Why would the Blessed Trinity bestow upon a mere mortal the indescribable honor of possessing both body and soul now in paradise-not waiting, like the rest of redeemed humanity, until the Redeemer's Second Coming? With unabashed simplicity and honesty, Saint John Damascene accepts the challenge represented by this enigma and deftly responds: "It was fitting." As Mary enjoyed unfailing proximity to the Messiah during this life, it seems right and proper for her to experience intimacy with Him even now in the next.
The reason that the Assumption inspires hope in disciples of the Savior is that we have sure assurance that human beings (along with the Angels) have the opportunity to know the unutterable joys of unending life in Heaven. If we strive for the fidelity that marked the earthly days of the Virgin, we also will one day partake both soul and body in the Beatific Vision that she now possesses. Where she now is, we hope to follow.
As Saint John Damascene might say, it was fitting.