There are good and important reasons why we should celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. The feast is new, organic, democratic, timely, and in these ways, shows a way forward for our Church.
The Assumption of Mary was promulgated by Pope Pius XII in 1950, just 73 years ago. That’s almost yesterday in “Church years”. Our Church is a living Church capable of acting in modern times. Because there is no scriptural record, the belief that she was taken up to heaven, both body and soul, had to well up in the body of our Church as an organic love story. (We love Mary because she loves us.) The belief that Jesus had the power to do for his mother validated what they believed made their belief “suitable and fitting”, a belief from the heart confirmed by Jesus’ power to lift up his mother body and soul.
The Feast of the Assumption of Mary was proclaimed by a dogmatic pronouncement by a pope exercising (for the last time up to now) his new power to make infallible pronouncements. But history says that he asked the bishops of the world what they thought (98% liked the idea) expressing also what the people believed. So even though the action looked top-down, it was really bottom-up consultation.
The twentieth century saw two world wars with death and destruction never seen before. Millions died. Auschwitz and Hiroshima happened. The papal bull recognized this historical tragedy with its denegation of the human body. Alluding to the bloody wars of the twentieth century, the document deplores the destruction of life, and the desecration of the human body (Richard P. McBrien). From the bull itself, “the exalted destiny of both our soul and body may in this striking manor be brought to the notice of all persons.”
Our Church is at its best when it recognizes belief born of love and allowed to grow organically in the body of the Church. Our Church is at its best when it acts collectively, dare I say democratically, and consults its bishops and all the people. Our Church is at its best when it reads the signs of the times and acts on what leaps out of history.
Let us celebrate Mary in heaven and a Church that can grow organically, make decisions collectively, and read the signs of the times.
John Houk, jpc