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August 11, 2010
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Aug. 15 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Overview: The first reading is one of the most explicit references to the Assumption of Mary in the Bible. Although the word itself isn’t used, the fact is clearly there. (In the Eastern Church, it is called the “Dormition” of Mary). It’s worth noting the first part of the reading where John has a vision of the Ark of the Covenant. According to the Church Fathers, the Ark of the Covenant prefigured Mary, for just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, so the Holy Spirit overshadowed the “ark” of the new covenant—Mary—at the Annunciation (Lk 1:35). The Ark of the Old Covenant contained the manna, the Ten Commandments and Aaron’s staff (Heb 9:4), which prefigured Christ. The Ark, therefore, prefigured Mary who contained in her womb the bread of life, the Word and high priest of God. In this week’s second reading, St. Paul describes the resurrection of the dead and how Christ is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” As Christ is the new Adam, Mary is the new Eve, and the first to be brought to life in the “proper order.” In the order of salvation, Mary is first, for she is united to her Son and Savior in an everlasting and inseparable bond of love. By the grace and power of God she was taken up into heaven, body and soul, where she reigns with her Son as Queen forever. The exaltation of Mary is further confirmed in this week’s Gospel. Mary had an irreplaceable role to play in the drama of salvation. It is for this reason that “all generations will call her blessed.”
Key verse: “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order” (1 Cor 15:22-23).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “’The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.’ The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (No. 966).
Pope Benedict XVI: “As the Second Vatican Council teaches, Mary Most Holy should always be seen in the mystery of Christ and of the Church. In this perspective: “the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come” (Angelus, Aug. 15, 2008).
Life application: The doctrine of the Assumption is a stumbling block for many Protestants. They say it’s not in the Bible. However, the Assumption is solidly grounded in sacred Scripture, as this week’s readings indicate. It’s important that we understand this dogma so that we can “give a reason for the hope that is in us” (1 Pt 3:15). Mary is our hope because when we look at her, we see what God has in mind for those who love him. Mary has been perfected by God’s grace, as we hope to be.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese.