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Our Lady of the Rosary - Marian Retreat
The Assumption of Our Lady
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present meditation is on the Fourth Glorious Mystery, the Assumption of Our Lady. As we all know the dogma of Mary's Assumption was defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950. There are so many aspects of this Mystery that we could meditate on. I thought I would choose the three most fundamental. Begin by asking ourselves, what do we believe when we believe that Our Lady was assumed body and soul into Heaven? Then, more briefly, why did the Vicar of Christ just at this time in history define Mary's Assumption? Then, more specifically, within the Pope's teaching, why should Mary have been assumed body and soul into Heaven? And on the practical level, finally, how are we to put this Mystery of Faith into practice?
Mary Is in Heaven both in Soul and in Body
We begin then by asking ourselves, what do we believe? And I believe the best source and summation of our faith in the Mystery of Our Lady's Assumption is to quote the Definition, part of a long document of Pope Pius XII. Here's the Definition: "By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare and define as Divinely Revealed Dogma the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever-Virgin after her life on earth was assumed body and soul to the glory of Heaven." unquote the Solemn Definition. What then, in retrospect, over the Definition do we believe? We believe, first, that like her Son, Mary had a mortal human nature capable of body and soul separating. Secondly, like her Son, she completed her mortal stay on earth. Third, unlike her Son, she did not, by her own power, go to Heaven. It was by the power of her Son, hence, passive voice. Christ ascended, active voice. Mary was assumed, passive voice. But finally, like Him, She is now in Heaven, not only in soul as all the other saintly people, incidentally, including Adam and Eve. As our Byzantine calendar at home told us December the 24th in the Byzantine calendar is the feast, if you please, of Saints Adam and Eve. Unlike, therefore, all the other saints whom we venerate as in heavenly glory they are there in soul only, Mary is in Heaven both in soul and, like Jesus, in body.
Development of Doctrine
Our next question, why, why did the Pope define Mary's Bodily Assumption? First of all, he did not define something which had not always been true. De Facto, Mary had been assumed body and soul into Heaven in the first century of the Christian era. However he gave reasons why he, Pius XII, following the lead of his predecessor Pius IX who, in the previous century, had defined Mary's Immaculate Conception, so he now defined Mary's Bodily Assumption. Why? Because, as he said, the doctrine, more or less implicitly but it was there, had been believed from the earliest years of the Church's history. There is such a thing as development of doctrine, never an increase in revelation. This was no new dogma. It was what the Church had always believed but in the course of the centuries, came to believe because the Church came to understand more clearly both the fact and the reason why Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven. And the Pope referred to the very early feasts honoring, under different titles, Mary's Assumption. In the Greek Church it is Mary's Dormition; Mary's Falling Asleep.
Women Better Have a Pattern to Follow
Moreover, and now the Pope became more specific, there was a special need, said the Vicar of Christ, to promote devotion to the Blessed Virgin in our times. More, he said (and this was prophetic) more than ever before in the history of the Church because of the rising awareness of the role and the dignity of women in the Church and in the world at large. And women better, (comma) they had better have a pattern to follow.
Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition
Again there was need to settle, so the Pope said once and for all, the Divine Revelation has come to us, not only through Sacred Scripture, but also through Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition. And, therefore, at the dawn of the ecumenical age and there are two large divisions of Christians, indeed, but they are separated from the Roman Catholic Church, on the one hand, the Eastern Orthodox said the Pope to reassure them that we Roman Catholics believe as clearly and strongly as they do in Mary's Bodily Assumption. You see the Eastern Orthodox Churches don't have any Papal Definitions, for the best of reasons; theyve got no Pope! Nevertheless, faith in and devotion to Our Lady Bodily Assumed into Heaven is of the very heart of Eastern Orthodoxy. By way of footnote; some people may be wondering why our present Holy Father, John Paul II is so constantly and some may have the nerve to say, excessively, urging devotion to Our Lady. Oh! He knows, he knows! Any prospect of reunion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches separated from Rome, any prospect of reunion must come because of our common, united devotion to Mary. Did you know, having been reared by a Byzantine Mother, did you know the Byzantine Churches have one feast, at least one, for Our Lady every single day of the year which, by the way is one reason, autobiographically speaking, why we're having this retreat on the Holy Rosary.
Revelation Not Only in the Bible
But then there are others separated from the Roman Catholic Church whose generic name is Protestants, a bewildering variety (what a mild term) variety of denominations. The latest official counting worldwide is over four thousand denominations. Pope Pius XII said, If we're ever going to have the Protestants reunite with the Roman Catholic Church, they better realize; they better learn that God's revelation has come to the human race, not only in the Bible. In other words, by the end of the first century God, we believe, had completed what we call the public revelation that he intended for the whole world. All that mankind needs to believe in order to be saved and sanctified was completed, the revelation by the death of the last Apostle about 100A.D. Well! Where do you find that revelation? The Protestants got the idea - no sober Christian had ever had the idea before the 16th century. But with the discovery of print and the multiplication of books, the core of Protestant theology is that all of God's revelation - all of it - is contained in the Bible. On those premises as when I've taught at six Protestant divinity schools, I tell my students, gentlemen, they were all men in Divinity studies then - gentlemen, as a Catholic I can ask you, how do you know what books belong to the Bible? Either you rely on revealed Tradition or there is no way, no way that you can say, infallibly, that there are only four Gospels, because historically there were twenty-five gospels.
Gods Word Also Revealed in Tradition
Back to Pius XII - this is well to know, what in God's providence was behind Definition of Our Lady's Assumption. For once and for all throw down the gauntlet of our separated brethren whom we dearly love; God's revealed Word is not only contained in the Bible but also in revealed Tradition: For example, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin body and soul into Heaven. No wonder there was a hue and outcry: Who does the Pope think he is, where does he find it? In what chapter of Luke's Gospel, what verse? Peace, peace! The Pope, in effect, told our separated brethren, peace! You've got a problem. There is much more that God has revealed which is not contained within the pages of the written revealed Word of God - so much for number two.
Why the Pope Defined Our Ladys Assumption
Why did the Pope define Our Lady's Assumption? Now more close to the mystery: Why was Our Lady assumed into Heaven? Whatever I'm sharing with you, by the way, can be found in the several thousand word document of the Definition of Mary's Assumption. The core Definition is only as we read it one single sentence but it is preceded by the reasons why the Definition should have been made, the reason why Our Lady was assumed and then which will be our last reflection, how the believing faithful of the world, how to live out this mystery of Mary's Assumption.
She Was to Conquer the Consequences of Sin
Why was the Blessed Virgin assumed body and soul into Heaven? First, she is the Mother of Christ, the Son of God. Since (what a safe statement) she was already united with Him during His life on earth, united with Him - He wouldn't have had a human life without her - she should also be united with Him in heavenly glory and united with Him, not only in Spirit which she surely was during His and her earthly sojourn; but united with Him also in body. Again since, like her Son and with her Son, she conquered sin having been conceived without sin; she never actually sinned. Then, this is crucial; like Jesus, therefore, she was also - I'm quoting the Vicar of Christ - she was to conquer the consequences of sin. What are they? First, death, but Christ died. Question: Did Christ have to die? No! And watch this! Not only did Christ not have to die because He didn't have to become Man in the first place. But even as man was Christ as Man, as we are, naturally mortal? No! Christ, even as Man chose, hear it? He chose to be mortal, because mortality, or shall we call it, deathness to which all of us are subject is a consequence of sin. Anyone with a human nature (as Christ surely had) Who, however, was absolutely free from sin would be - absolutely speaking - immortal in Body. Christ chose to die.
The Three D'S - Death, Decay and Delay
But back to Our Lady: Having been conceived without sin, having never actually sinned, Mary was not subject to the penalty either of death or (and this bears emphasis) or to one the, the consequences of death; the three D's, remember? Death, decay and delay. Being the sinless Mother of God, Mary was not subject either to death or the decay of her body or the delay in the reunion of body and soul as will be the case, my friends, with all of us.
She Also Suffered Deeply in Her Body
However, the closing reason on why Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven. Since, like her Son, she suffered with Him, she deserved to join Him in the reward she had a claim to, not only in her soul but also in her body. Why: Because like Jesus she suffered; the Sorrowful Mother, the Mater Dolorosa. She suffered in her soul certainly but also deeply in her body. And therefore had a right to two kinds of reward: reward in spirit and reward in body.
That We May Live the Rosary
Now the main focus of our conference: How are we to live out the mystery of Our Lady's Assumption? As we come to the close of the retreat, let me repeat what I've said before; the purpose of this retreat was not mainly (it was not of course to exclude that we might be able to recite the Rosary in the years to come more prayerfully and more fruitfully.) But that's not the main reason. The main reason is that we might live the Rosary. And it is living the Mysteries of our Faith, my friends, that places such a demand on our weak, fallen human nature. Our final question, therefore; How are we to live out what we believe, namely, Mary's Bodily Assumption into heavenly glory? On the day after Pope Pius XII defined Mary's Bodily Assumption, he called all the Bishops who had attended the Definition the day before, asked them all to stay in Rome for one more day; it was well over six hundred. And he explained to them what he hoped would be the fruit of the Definition of Our Lady's Assumption.
Cosmic Idolatry of the Human Body
Let me quote from talk which Pope Pius XII gave to the Bishops. His desire was that as the result there would be, I'm quoting, "a spirit of penance to replace the prevalent love of pleasure." Two of this Mystery being defined and Our Lady now being honored as Bodily Assumed into Heaven P's we should never separate; Penance and Pleasure. And I continue my quotation, "and a renewal of family life, stabilized; there's the Pope confessed divorce was common, and family life that would become more fruitful where birth control was practiced," unquote Pius XII. Good to hear. As you see immediately, where the Vicar of Christ wanted to do; he wanted (under divine guidance of course) to call first of all, all believers attention and then the world's attention to the fact that the world is now practicing cosmic idolatry of the human body. The human body is now becoming an idol. And the Laws of God are ignored, brushed aside and one nation after another has not merely legalized but legislated idolatry of the body. Let me tell you that talk given by Pope Pius XII on November 2, 1950 had better be understood!
How We Are to Live Out This Mystery
Mortify the Body
Let's go down, now, in sequence and become as practical as we can and apply this all to ourselves. We are, then, if we are to live out this Mystery of Our Lady's Bodily Assumption into Heaven. Number one: We are to practice penance by mortifying the body in order to expiate sins of the flesh.
Foster Authentic Family Life
Secondly, we are to do everything we possibly can to foster authentic family life by stabilizing the permanence of married vows weakened by divorce. And let me tell you, forty years in the priesthood, dealing as I do with priests, religious and the laity; I cannot tell you how much the stability of married life has been weakened by the instability of the priestly and religious vows. I hope I'm clear. How many wives and mothers have told me "Father, I don't get it, I just don't get it - these nuns making vows and walking out! And with the blessing of the Church!" All the distinction that I would make between the Sacramental indissolubility of marriage and the fact that the Church does have the authority under God to dispense even from final vows - that distinction either you make a vow to God and keep it or you shouldn't have made the vow in the first place was lost; meaningless. Again this is all what the Holy Father was urging the Bishops and through the Bishops, urging all of us to foster fruitfulness in marriage, made sterile by contraception and abortion. The United States is now well below zero population growth. There is no way our country can survive on the present birth rate of our citizens. No way. The future of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth is at stake. Less than two children per family; you've almost got to put the word family in quotation marks in the United States. Compare just one figure 6.8 in Tanzania - average.
We Are to Serve God in body and Soul
We go on. If we ask why the Holy Father should have singled out this particular aspect of the Assumption to emphasize in this period of world history, we see the answer in what we believe the Assumption means and I've got five meanings. Whatever else this mystery should mean to us, it ought to tell us that we are to serve God in body and soul! We are not angels. We're human beings. God is to be served with our bodies.
Use Our Bodies as God Wants
Second, Our Lady's Bodily Assumption to tell us we are to use our bodies as God wants us to. God and not we are masters. Better - God, and not we, is the master of our bodies. We are not masters of our bodies. But we've got a free will! Sure we do. We've got voluntary muscles in our body. Sure we do! But we, we use that free will - according to the Will of God - over our bodies!
Control Our Bodies - Avoid Self-Indulgence
Third, we are to control our bodies by avoiding self-indulgence. And here we're going beyond the absolutely Perceptive Laws of God binding under sin. Whatever else growth in holiness means and it means many things; what it surely means that I use my free will in serving God not only in avoiding what I know is positively sinful but that I do God's Will beyond the Divine Precepts in observing what the Church calls the Divine Counsels. That I give up, I sacrifice, I surrender certain satisfactions here of the body to which I have a perfect right and which I would not sin if I experience that bodily satisfaction. Consecrated chastity is meaningless, makes no sense, except as a sacrifice to God beyond to what a person is obliged to, say, in the holy bonds of Matrimony. And this covers a whole spectrum of potential ways (and beginning with the speaker) in which we are daily examine our consciences not only where and if I have sinned by indulging my body in which ways that are forbidden by God. But we are to ask ourselves, how have I sacrificed legitimate bodily satisfaction in order to be more pleasing to God, give him more honor and glory by surrendering what I may legitimately experience without sin in my body.
By Sacrificing Our Bodies
Number Four: In Imitation of Our Lady. And I'm talking to the right audience.
We're asking ourselves how we are to live the Mystery of Our Lady's Assumption and we're saying, provided we have the grace to do so - to live out Mary's Bodily Assumption by sacrificing our bodies as Mary did by her virginity. Let's never forget to associate two previous mysteries of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Mystery of her Bodily Assumption. What are they: Mary's Immaculate Conception and Mary's Perpetual Virginity. On both counts Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven because, listen, she had been conceived without sin and therefore there was to have been no separation of body and soul in such a way that, like us, Mary's body would decay and her body would be delayed in its reunion with her soul. That's the Immaculate Conception as the bedrock dogmatic foundation for her Assumption. But also Mary's Perpetual Virginity - she having sacrificed as the virginal Mother of Christ, the legitimate satisfaction that married people have a right to in their married life. Our Lady, the, with that same body whose legitimate pleasures in marriage she sacrificed by her virginity had a claim, notice therefore to her Bodily Assumption and her bodily beatitude in Heaven. We go on.
For Using Our Bodies in Prayer
We are to look forward to being rewarded in Heaven not only in soul but also, like Mary, in body. Why? In each one of these will begin with for. Why should we look forward to enjoying God's Presence after the last day in our bodies? For our using our bodies in prayer. May I submit, after this meditation on Our Lady's bodily Assumption, let's ask Our Lady to keep us from ever falling asleep in prayer. It is not in my notes but it's too much part of my own life to know if we're going to live out Our Lady's Bodily Assumption, when we pray we've got to use our bodies. We live out Mary's Assumption by using the body as God wants us to in prayer. By doing what? Like folding one's hands. By doing what? By bowing one's head. By doing what? Like kneeling down. We pray (let's make sure we know it), we pray and being human beings we must pray, not only with our souls, but with our bodies.
For Using Our Body in the Practice of Charity
How are we to live out this Mystery of Our Lady's Assumption and look forward to being rewarded as she was? With our bodily and we can use the word, legitimately, with our bodily assumption into Heaven: for using our body in the practice of charity! You're asked to do something. You're dead tired - you do it anyhow! Don't tell me; don't tell me you can practice selfless charity without (I'll have to use the verb) exhausting your body.
For Using Our Bodies to Do Hard Work
How do we look forward to our own bodily assumption? For our using our bodies in doing hard work. What does work have to do with sanctity? My friend, a lot! Just a reminder - in any manual of Theology, the sin is called indolence; I call it laziness. We are all naturally, spontaneously lazy. Father, stop calling us names. We're lazy. Period. We then may look forward to being rewarded for hard work. As I've said over the years, one of the most satisfying passages in the Gospels is the Evangelist saying, "Et fatigatus est" and He was exhausted, that's Jesus. Oh! Thanks Lord! That kind of mystical rapture I can understand: Dead tired.
In Imitation of Our Lady
Why do we dare look forward to our own bodily assumption? In imitation of Our Lady through our suffering in body and the endurance of pain. Pain is precious. Pain is very dear to the Heart of God. It must be God became Man in order to endure pain. Don't you dare run away from pain! That sentence has an exclamation mark at the end of it. And you know we don't have to go looking around, gosh! Haven't had a bit of pain all day. I've got to suffer some pain. Leave it to the Lord. He will provide.
For Our Practice of Poverty
We're asking ourselves, how can we look forward with Our Lady to join her after our bodily assumption into Heaven? For our practice of poverty, in not indulging the appetites of the body through material pleasures and let me tell you, no state of life is exempt from this natural tendency to indulge the body with material things. Father, you might say, stop please, that's enough. I've got a few more.
For Our Practice of Obedience
We may look forward to our own glorious assumption body and soul into Heaven for our practice of obedience in commanding the body to do physical things prescribed according to our state of life. You've got yours and I've got mine. My Superiors (didn't take me long to find out) wanted me if I could to say the first Mass in the parish Church in Detroit, 6:30am Mass. Since I'm in the habit of keeping late night hours, working quite regularly past midnight, well, I didn't tell my Superiors, let me think about it. It started with one week out of four each month. It is now up to two weeks and just before I left Detroit to come to New Mexico, I told the Superior, I can't believe it! I'll be free the whole month of January for the 6:30am Mass. And his parting - after wishing me Merry Christmas - I'll give you at least two weeks of the first parish Mass in the month of January. I wouldn't have the gall to tell you people to do something unless this sinner was trying to do it himself. We still go on.
By Doing His Will with Our Whole Personality
Why can we look forward to being assumed body and soul into Heaven? For our use of the body in sharing our love for God by doing His Will with our whole personality, we are told to love God, remember, with our whole soul, with our whole hearts, with our whole mind, with all our strength. My friends that means, also, we are to adore God with our whole body. We are to adore God with our lips. We are to adore God with our pallets. We are to adore God with our eyes. We are to adore Him with our ears. We are to adore the Almighty with our hands. We are to adore God with our feet. We are to adore the Holy Trinity with all our bodily senses, both external and internal as instruments of veneration by conforming all of these powers to the loving and, sometimes, heroically difficult Will of God. I've got a short prayer.
O God, you looked upon the Humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary and raised her to this grace that Your Only-Begotten Son should be born of her according to the flesh and assumed her body and soul into heavenly glory. Grant that by her prayers we, saved by the mystery of Your Redemption, may merit to be exalted by You to spend eternity in Your Company with Your Mother, body and soul. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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