The Assumption

I read recently that when a mother gives birth to her baby, some of the baby’s cells remain in her body for the rest of her life. Wow. This means that when Our Lady gave birth to Our Lord, some of His Divinity continued to reside within her body. Because of this, the Virgin is rightly called the Tabernacle of the Lord. In the words of St. Bonaventure’s sermon on the Annunciation:

Let us go to the Virgin with great confidence, and we will tranquilly find her in our necessities. Therefore this tabernacle is rightly to be honored, and to this tabernacle flight should be made, in which the Lord rested so familiarly, so that the Blessed Virgin herself could say truly and literally, ‘Who made me rested in my tabernacle.’

So Mary is the Tabernacle of the Lord; she is also the Ark of the New Covenant, the flesh through which Our Lord took our human nature during the nine months she sheltered Him in her womb. She was the human agent through which God accomplished the redemption of the world in Jesus Christ. 

This is why so many of us join with those who have given honor to her throughout the ages in believing that on her death, her God-graced body and soul was assumed into heaven, where she remains forever, making intercession for us.

One of the images that has helped me in reflecting on The Assumption has come, not from the many representations of it in the Western Church, but from the East. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters also have many icons of the Assumption, but the one that has helped me is the icon of the Theotokos of the Unburnt Bush. 

The burning bush that Moses encountered on Mt. Horeb was the presence of The Lord. We are told that our God is a consuming fire, yet the bush was not consumed. Mary is a type of this. She harbored within her body the Divine Presence, the Divine Fire of God, but was not consumed. We find this expressed beautifully in the hymnody of the Orthodox Church:

The miracle that Moses witnessed on Sinai in the burning bush
Foretold your virgin childbearing, O pure Mother.
We the faithful cry to you:
Rejoice, O truly living bush!
Rejoice, O holy mountain!
Rejoice, O sanctified expanse and most holy Theotokos!

You showed Moses, O Christ God,
An image of your most pure Mother
In the bush that burned yet was not consumed,
For she herself was not consumed,
When she received in her womb the fire of divinity!
She remained incorrupt after her pure childbearing!
By her prayers, O greatly merciful One,
Deliver us from the flame of passions,
And preserve your people from all harm!

O Pure Mother, the New Eve who overturned the disobedience of our first parents which brought sin and death into the world; because of Mary’s obedience, these have been overcome. So it is entirely proper to infer that the effects of the disobedience of the Old Eve were spared the New Eve. The Church venerates her accordingly.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes movingly of the honor due to Mary:

Let us honor [Mary] for the purity of her body, the holiness of her life. Let us marvel at her fruitful virginity, and venerate her divine Son. Let us extol her freedom from concupiscence in conceiving and from all pain in bearing. Let us proclaim her to be reverenced by the Angels, desired by the nations, foretold by the patriarchs and prophets, chosen out of all and preferred before all. Let us magnify her as a channel of grace, the mediatrix of salvation, the restorer of ages, and as exalted above the choirs of angels to the very heights of Heaven.

We must ask Our Lady to pray for us, that one day we will share in this wholeness, and see God face to face, and will not be consumed.

Forward in Christ

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