Mary Assumption body and soul into heaven was declared an official teaching of the church by Pius XII in 1950. He had consulted all the Bishops of the Catholic Church and after lengthy consideration, he made an official declaration about this special Feast.
The degradation of the human body during the second World War was at the centre of the discussions. There have been many wars over the centuries, but the dignity of the human body came up for special mention on this occasion. As we all know, whole cities were obliterated without concern for any human dignity. Men and women were put into concentration camps and starved to death. Finally, the war ended with the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thousands of men and women were killed or maimed in just two days.
The world was horrified. So, Pius XII wanted to make it clear to the whole word that we as a church would stand against this sort of mass human destruction. The Pope wanted to make it specific. By declaring Mary’s Assumption body and soul into heaven., he wanted to put the dignity of the human body beyond all doubt. He wanted the world to know that every human body is sacred.
From today’s Gospel reading, it is clear that this young woman, Mary of Nazareth, was the one chosen by God to be the mother of His only Son. As soon as the angel told her that Elizabeth was pregnant, Mary was on a mission to welcome another child into the world.
As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the child in her womb let for joy. Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice: Of all women, you are the most blessed. How have I deserved to be visited by the mother of my Lord.
Mary is declared as someone specially chosen by God. Mary’s response is that beautiful prayer we know as the Magnificat. Mary knew she was not worthy; but she also was able to declare the greatness of the Lord, her God. She accepted all this knowing that it was the work of God. So, she could say with all honesty:
My soul glorifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. He looks on his servant in her lowliness. Henceforth all ages will call me blessed.
She did not say this because she was proud. She said it because she was recognizing the gift God was giving her. All this was God’s doing.
This feast of the Assumption is a recognition of the dignity of the human person – both body and soul. Mary was taken up to God as a sure and certain hope that that this is also our destiny. Her presence with God is a promise to us that we are also called to be with God Our bodies are a Temple of God.
Noel Mansfield, msc
14th August, 2020