In some of the smaller towns of Italy the celebration of the Assumption begins with two processions. The first procession begins at the outskirts of town and heads down the main street to the town center. The people in this procession carry a statue of Mary. this procession represents Mary on her way to Heaven after her life on earth came to an end. Now at the very same time the second procession also begins on the outskirts of town but this one begins on the opposite side of town. This one too heads down the main street making its way to the town center. The people in this procession carry a statue of Jesus. This second procession represents Jesus going out to meet his mother as she arrives in Heaven.
The big moment in the celebration comes when the two processions meet under an arch of flowers in the center of town. When this meeting takes place, both processions stop and the two statues are made to bow to each other three times. The bowing symbolizes Jesus welcoming his mother at the gates of Heaven. When the bowing ceremony is over, the people carry the two statues side by side, in a single procession to the parish church. Jesus is leading his mother to her throne, in Heaven. When the procession arrives inside the church, the two statues are enthroned in the sanctuary, and the townspeople celebrate the Mass of the Assumption. This Italian celebration expresses in a simple visual way the profound truth that we celebrate on the Solemnity of the Assumption. It’s the truth that after Mary’s life on earth, she was taken bodily into Heaven.
On November 1st 1950 Pope Pius XII made this solemn proclamation, “Mary the Blessed Virgin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory.” So even though the church has believed and taught this dogma of the Assumption for nearly two millennia it wasn’t solemnly defined until 1950. When I first learned of this I was kind of surprised, why wait until 1950? But then I read somewhere that there are two reasons that a Pope will solemnly define a dogma. First, is its denial if there is a certain group within the church that denies a certain teaching, the pope will solemnly define it. And in solemnly defining a truth the Pope hopes to end any confusion or contradictions among the faithful. This is how we got the creed, denials to the faith were rebutted and over time truths were defined. And the second reason a Pope may solemnly define a dogma is the appropriateness of the teaching to a particular age. Back in 1950 no one was denying the truth of the Assumption of Mary it was, however, the perfect time to define this dogma and proclaim at the same time the sacredness of the human body, how the human body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
The year 1950 followed one of the bloodiest decades of our human existence. Six million Jews were experimented upon, murdered, and cremated within concentrations camps. They were treated like animals or worse. Two hundred and forty thousand Japanese, many of them Catholic, were killed after two atomic bombs were dropped. Overall, during World War II around 78 million men, women, and children perished during that horrendous conflict. Human flesh had seemingly no value, no sacredness. At that time in history the Church responded by showing what God thinks of human flesh; human flesh is worthy of eternal glory and of union with the Most Blessed Trinity. Not only does Jesus the Son of God bring his glorified human body to heaven, but he wills that his Mother Mary should be with him as well, in her glorified body and soul. The two of them, Jesus and Mary together, await all of us the sons and daughters of Mary, the brothers and sisters of Jesus who, professing the resurrection of Jesus and the assumption of Mary, are being prepared for the day of eternal glory.
Today’s world too is in need of a reminder of the Assumption. Our world of 2020 tells us that human flesh has seemingly no value, no sacredness. There are wars waged on people in the Middle East and Africa because of their faith. Our world glamorizes pornography, enslaves young girls in human trafficking, experiments on human embryos, kills the unborn, and in certain parts of the world, U.S. included, the elderly and disabled are euthanized. We today, are in need of the constant reminder of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption. We are in need of a reminder of the value and sacredness of the human body. What happened to Mary will one day happen to each of us. So let us be preachers of the Assumption and the sacredness of the human body doing so by monitoring the speech we use, the websites we visit and the TV shows we watch. By carefully evaluating the governmental representatives we elect, practicing all the corporal works of mercy, and by praying, praying for an end of violence, the many forms of violence against the human body.
Although we wait, we believe in the glorification of our body and soul together in heaven. First Christ, second Mary, and then finally the entire church, or as St. Paul says; “all those who belong to him.” And this gives us great hope.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley