Saturday, August 15, 2009

Feast Day: The Assumption of the Blessed Mother

Today is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, one of the Holy Days of Obligation in the Church's liturgical calendar. Because it falls on a weekend date this year, the day of obligation is blended with the regular Sunday Mass.

This is the day when Mary was called up into heaven like Enoch, who "walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him" (Genesis 5:24) and the prophet Elijah, about whom it was said: "As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. " (2 Kings 2:11).

Moses is the third Old Testament person who was assumed into heaven. Deuteronomy 34:6 relates that Moses was buried but no one has ever known the location. Secondly, the archangel Michael "disputed" with the devil for the body of Moses in Jude 9. I'm assuming the argument was over taking Moses' body up into heaven rather than letting it decay in the earth, and naturally St. Michael won. Then we see Moses with Jesus in the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:3 - he's already up there, part of the team and strategizing in power meetings on top of a mountain.

Sometimes people wonder why, if Mary was assumed into heaven, the Bible never mentions it, which is a good question. But when you think of it, it's also a powerful argument against sola scriptura, because the answer is that Mary was still alive when what later became the canon of New Testament scripture was being written. As amazing as the Apostles were, it's still kind of hard to write about the assumption of someone's body into heaven when the someone is still alive.

Since Jesus had no brothers or sisters to care for Mary after his death (and subsequent resurrection), he told St. John to look after her. Scholars think that St. John took Mary to Ephesus, which is part of modern-day Turkey, when the political and religious climate of Jerusalem became increasingly hostile to Christians, culminating in the martyrdom of St. Stephen in AD 37.

Author Donald Carroll wrote very compellingly about the historical, spiritual and archaeological findings of the further life of the Blessed Virgin in his book, Mary's House. It's a slim little volume of ninety-six pages and a fascinating read, one of those books that I simply could not put down. So I'm lucky that it wasn't, like nine hundred ninety-six pages long, or my arms might have fallen off.

Here's a picture of the house, which was excavated by archaeologists in the late nineteenth century. Interestingly, the locals who lived in seclusion and simplicity on the top of the hill nearby, had always known about "Meryemana," as they called it in Turkish. The evidence as to its authenticity was so compelling that Pope Leo XIII declared the house a place of pilgrimage in 1896.

There is a place called the Church of Mary Theotokos ("God-bearer" in Greek) near the West Bank by the town of Nablus which was thought for centuries to be the site of her empty tomb, but that church was built in the fifth century, hundreds of years after Mary's death and hundred of years before the excavation of Ephesus.

This little house was, then, most likely the site of Mary's assumption into heaven. Considering who she was, the role she played in bringing salvation to the world, and her importance to the Christians of the time who knew her personally, it seems extremely unlikely that they would have lost track of her grave, that there would be no cherished relics of her body. Mary was a quiet figure, but not one to be lost to obscurity. What is true -- a dogma of the Church -- is that her purity and goodness transcended mortal decay and that, like Enoch before her, she was no more, because God took her.


From the archives:
Feast of the Assumption 2008 on InsomniMom

Feast of the Assumption 2007 on InsomniMom

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