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Photo: Jusepe de Ribera, 1636. Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain.
Part 15: The Assumption and the Analogy of Faith
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Oct 8, 2015)
The following is the fifteenth part of our Mary 101 series.
Even all we have said so far about the roots of the Assumption in Scripture and ancient tradition might not have been enough to lead the Church to declare that the Assumption of Mary was a truth revealed by God. Something more was needed — what theologians call the analogy of faith. That means that every authentic doctrine revealed by God must be seen to "fit" with every other revealed doctrine. In other words, there must be a harmony among the truths of the faith — and certainly no contradictions between them.
Does the doctrine of Mary's Assumption fit with the Catholic faith as a whole?
Of course, it does.
First of all, the doctrine of Mary's Assumption is a natural fit with the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception: that she was preserved from the inheritance of original sin by the merits of her Son's Passion. Remember, God can do that kind of thing simply because he has all of time present to him at once. For example, he took the merits of his Son's Passion and applied them to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, granting them many graces on that basis. And in the same way, he took the merits of his Son's Passion, and on that basis gave to Mary an outpouring of grace into her soul from the first moment of her existence, to prepare her for her special, future role as Mother of the Savior.
Now, we know from the book of Genesis that one of the results of the Fall of Adam and Eve was that all their descendents became subject to suffering and death. "The wages of sin is death"(Rom 6:23). But Mary did not share in this fallen condition. Rather, her soul was enriched from the moment of her conception with the grace of the life-giving Holy Spirit. Blessed John Henry Newman wrote: "Why should she share the curse of Adam, who had no share in his fall?" Thus, our belief in the graced origin of Mary naturally leads us to accept the truth that she was preserved from the curse and indignity of the bodily corruption involved in human death. That is why it was not until the 20th century that the Church became so sure of the doctrine of the Assumption that she proclaimed it a revealed truth from God: because it was not until the 19th century that she became convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, of the truth of the Immaculate Conception. The one doctrine cleared the way for the other!
Most important of all, the Assumption of Mary is a loud and triumphant proclamation of the full truth of Easter. We sometimes say that the Easter faith, in a nutshell, is that "Christ is Risen." In a certain sense, that is true enough. But the Good News that the Apostles proclaimed to the world was not only that Christ is Risen, but that, precisely because he is Risen, he is bringing his whole mystical Body on earth to join him one day in heavenly glory. That is what St. Peter joyfully proclaims in I Peter 1:3-4:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. ...
Most of the peoples of the ancient world, if they believed in life after death at all, believed merely in the immortality of the human soul: as if our ultimate goal as human beings was merely to end up like "Casper the friendly ghost"! Not much "good news" in that! The Gospel message, however, is not only that Jesus himself rose again in a glorified body, but also, if our hearts live in union with him, we too shall rise again to a glorified life, body and soul, just like his own. As St. Paul once promised: "He shall change our lowly body to be like his glorious body" (Phil 3:21). That is precisely what the Assumption of Mary proclaims: Christ is Risen — and he is now bringing all faithful hearts with him to glory! And the sign of this hope to all the Church is that the person who was closest to Christ's own loving Heart has already been raised to glory before us. Assumpta est Maria in caelum, gaudent angeli!
In closing, listen to the words of a poem written by a young student at St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission in Canada. It captures the wonder and the mystery of Mary's Assumption about as well as human words can possibly do:
You're going home
Clad in the sun, stars overhead, moon underfoot, and snake under heel
Most pure, most humble, most holy
My mother, the well of your soul, deepened by suffering,
But the hem of the scarlet robe did not dare touch your ivory skin
Preserved from sin, but not from pain
An elegant vase, a masterpiece, a rose
Petals chosen to be preserved for all eternity
You lived and loved, then fell into sleep
Darkness danced with you, but not for long
You're going home
For from heaven reached down your beloved
The one who had your heart from the beginning
The lord, the almighty, the alpha and omega
Comes to gather his little girl
And you re-echo your words, as you've done so many times before
Though dormant and still, your heart says "yes"
And you are lifted, high there
Up into the throne of his heart
The one whom you love
You're going home
He gathers up your life like roses
Every minute, he adds to the bouquet
Moments spent with his son in the sanctuary of your home
Kneading, sewing, talking
Moments spent on the hill where he hung
Weeping, mourning, trusting
Moments spent and gathered
In the temple, on the donkey, in the stable, at the wedding
Watching him take the first of his steps
And walking beside him as he takes his last
Tending his wounds, teaching him prayers
Watching him fall, calling his name
Like lilies, your beloved gathers these moments
And fashions, out of them, a new crown
One for you to wear for all eternity
So take your crown, dear mother, be not afraid
You're going home.
— Janaya Trudel
Mary, Queen Assumed into Heaven, I rejoice that you were taken to the throne prepared for you in heaven by the Holy Trinity.
Lift my heart with you in the glory of your Assumption. ... Make me realize that death is the triumphant gate through which I shall pass to your Son, and that someday my body and soul shall rejoin my soul in the unending bliss of heaven.
From this earth over which I tread as a pilgrim, I look to you for help...(Mention your request).
When the hour of my death has come, lead me safely to the presence of Jesus to enjoy the vision of my God for all eternity together with you.
(Adapted from a prayer by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik, SVD)
Questions for Discussion Parts 13, 14, and 15
1. What does the Bible say about the Assumption of Mary: where is it at least implicit in the New Testament?
2. What difference does it make whether or not we believe in the Assumption of Mary: does it add to our appreciation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception? Does it increase our joy in the message of Easter? Does it make our Lady in heaven seem closer to us?
3. Why do you think that many Protestant Christians reject the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary?
Suggestions for Further Reading
• Read Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, Under the Mantle, the section entitled "The Blessings of Motherhood," pp. 266-273.
• Read Edward Sri, Walking With Mary (New York: Image, 2013), the chapter entitled "Persevering in Faith: Mary Crowned with Glory," pp. 149-164.
Follow the entire Mary 101 series.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.