Detail of “Assumption,” oil on canvas, 1617, by Guido Reni – PUBLIC DOMAIN

Spiritual Life

Total unity with God – body and soul

We don’t usually think of August as a month that honors Mary. Yet almost hidden in the heart of this late summer we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary on Aug. 15. On the Octave Day – Aug. 22 – we commemorate its culmination with the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 When Elizabeth comes out to meet her cousin, she is the first to call Mary “blessed among women.” In her Magnificat, Mary proclaims that all generations will call her blessed. And she knows it’s true.  Mary knows that it is God who has “done great things” for her and for the whole world, bringing down the powerful and lifting up the poor, reversing the fortunes of the world so that divine justice will at last be known to all. The mercy of God once promised to Abraham is being fulfilled in Mary. This is what makes her the “Blessed Mother,” as generations have called her.  And we the Church continue to be blessed through her patronage.

 The Assumption celebrates the particular blessing of Mary being received, body and soul, into heaven at the end of her life. Though the Church did not declare this as a dogma until 1950, the feast was celebrated as early as the 6th century. 

What moved Pope Pius XII to elevate this long-standing teaching to dogmatic status?  The world had seen in a brief half-century two of the cruelest wars in history. What had been endured in the atrocities of the Second World War brought the degradation of the human body to new lows. The pope wanted to bring an awareness of the dignity of every human person before the world again. Just as the crucified body of Jesus was glorified in the Resurrection, so the suffering bodies of all men and women are neither forsaken nor outside of God’s watchful care and intention.

The key to this mystery is in remembering that Mary is the one through whom all generations would find themselves blessed. What is true for Mary is true for the whole Church, and the mercy revealed to her is available to all of us.  God cares about human persons, body and soul, and does not intend for any part of who we are to be lost.

If the Resurrection of Jesus broke through the barrier of death, Mary is the first recipient of this wonderful grace. Death no longer holds the sting of corruption over us. We are free to enjoy total unity with God without loss of how we know ourselves best, as creatures of flesh and blood, whole and entire.  

We have nothing to fear for ourselves or our loved ones or those countless strangers who pass through our world, however briefly. God will assume and rescue the unborn babies, the lost children, those fallen to illness and injury and old age, or cut down by violence. Human flesh is dear to us; it is also near to the heart of God. Body and soul, God lifts us up, and along Mary’s blessed way, we, too, find that the promise of God’s mercy is something we can count on.

Father Dennis Hanneman is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha.