Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Assumption

Today is the feast day of the Assumption of Mary. 

For those who don't know the secret handshake, the Assumption refers to when Mary was assumed, body and soul, into Heaven.  This is an important day in the life of the Catholic Church, and a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning that we attend Mass. 

Anytime a Protestant friend asks what my primary obstacles were to becoming Catholic, Mary inevitably comes up.  Some of the Catholic doctrine on this subject is, for someone generally unfamiliar with it (like I was), difficult.

And yet at the same time, I'm also quick to say that in many ways, the Marian beliefs were a joy for me to embrace.  Because for as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by the Mother of God...and troubled by the lack of respect paid her in non-Catholic circles. 

Even as a Protestant I found it peculiar that her role in salvation--and in the Christian story--was so very diminished, considering what God chose her to do, and how much attention she received in the New Testament.  I of course came to see that the downplaying of Mary was merely a reaction to what was perceived as problematic Catholic teaching on the subject, and that bothered me. 

Was this really a reason to emphasize her youth, her nobody-ness, her naivete--over her faithfulness and obedience?  Over her Fiat and Magnificat?

Was this really a reason to part ways with the Church Fathers and virtually all early Christians by proposing that she was a wretched sinner like the rest of us?  As opposed to having been Immaculately Conceived?

And why the compulsion to buy into what was declared a heresy by Christians in the fourth century, this idea that she had a non-celibate marriage and as a result, several other children?  Especially in spite of the fact that this belief was not held by Christians anywhere until a heretic, bent on denying Jesus' divinity, proposed this alternate reality? 

Didn't the truth--and respecting the woman chosen by God to carry and bear His Son--matter more than distancing yourself from a faith tradition?

It is clear that over the centuries, Protestants have worked long and hard to make sure that Mary appears to be no different than anyone else, and that nobody in their midst spends too much time thinking about the Blessed Mother, period.  Personally, I believe much of their vested interest (or disinterest) lies in the fact that Mary cannot be divorced from the teachings of the early Christian church, which have been handed down throughout the years and which are now collectively known as Roman Catholicism. 

The Catholic view of Mary is of course a much bigger (and older) picture.  We give her honor, because Jesus honored her.  We love her, because Jesus loved her.  We look to her as our Mother, because Jesus is our brother.  The Church is a family, and it makes perfect, beautiful sense that our spiritual mother would hold a special place in our hearts. 

Truth be told, I love knowing that Mary lives in Heaven and prays for us.  I love thinking about how one day we too will be received into Heaven, as she was on the day she was assumed, and that Jesus wants to receive us too. 

The very idea of celebrating feast days and solemnities is vital for me, in spite of my not experiencing this in its fullness until adulthood.  Following the church calendar is a way to orient our lives around that which truly matters, and to honor saints and events which have gone before us.  As a Protestant I of course observed Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas Day, but now as a Catholic I get to celebrate all manner of holy days.  I feel so much more connected to Christianity throughout the ages, and I love it, in part because it helps bring about perspective and puts me in my proper place.  Ultimately though, observing feast days by attending Mass means that I am entering into worship with the Communion of Saints, those in Heaven and those on earth and those in Purgatory, and the angels too.  Beautiful, yes?

So today we celebrate the Assumption of Mary, and look towards the blessed hope of one day joining Jesus in Heaven as well. 


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