That’s Quite an Assumption

Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Assumption.

Joseph and Mary were walking in the garden one day. Mary turned to Joseph and said to him: “Joseph, when I come to the end of my earthly life, I think God is going to take me body and soul into heaven.” Taken aback, Joseph paused for a moment. Then he said in reply, “Wow, Mary, that’s quite an assumption.”

On November 1, 1950—five years, two months, and one day after the end of World War II—Pope Pius XII solemnly defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The world was not a pretty place at that time. Two world wars had claimed upwards of 125 million lives, the Spanish Flu another 20 to 40 million lives, and a third war in Korea was five months underway. This weighed heavily on Pius XII. “Our pontificate,” he wrote, “is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue.” Words which may describe our own feelings about the world today. But amidst these cares, anxieties, and troubles, Pius XII saw the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a reason for joy and hope back then. And it is a reason for joy and hope today as well. Why?

To answer this question, we must return to the Book of Genesis. In Genesis chapter two we hear how God first created Adam and then created Eve using Adam’s own flesh and bones. Then in chapter three we hear how the devil tempted Eve, how she and Adam committed the first sin, and how they were expelled from the garden of paradise and condemned to death. From then on, every decedent of Adam and Eve was under their curse: the curse of death and of separation from God. Humanity was without hope of regaining paradise or being raised to new life.

Fast forward to the Gospel of Luke. An angel appears to a young woman and asks her to become the mother of the Son of God. The woman says “Yes,” and by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, the humanity of the Son of God is created from the woman’s own flesh and bones. And already we see the curse beginning to unravel. Everything is different this time. This time the woman obeys God; she “hear[s] the word of God and observe[s] it.” This time the humanity of the man is taken from the flesh and bones of the woman. The first Eve came from the first Adam; now the second Adam comes from the second Eve.

This second Adam goes on to suffer and die on a tree. But unlike the first Adam who fell into sin because of a tree, the second Adam is obedient unto death on a tree. And because of His obedience, death has no hold on Him, and on the third day He rises from the dead. And, so, the curse is undone. Death is conquered, humanity is reunited to God, hope of regaining paradise and of being raised to new life is restored.

But what about the woman? What about the second Eve? What is her destiny? The first Adam and Eve were both banished from paradise, they were both punished with separation from God and with the corruption of their bodies in death. The victory somehow seems incomplete and our hope falters. If only the second Adam, if only Jesus, was assumed into heaven body and soul, what hope is there for us? Jesus, after all, was not only human but also divine. What hope is there for us mere mortals?

What we celebrate today is the completion of our victory and the perfection of our hope. For today we celebrate the fact that not only has the second Adam been assumed body and soul into heaven, but the second Eve has as well. A mere mortal like us has gone before us. And where she is, we can now hope to be. With St. Paul we can now say with confidence, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” That is why the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a reason for joy and hope: It is the last bite which swallows up death in victory, the last pull which removes the sting of sin. The first man and the first woman lost paradise for us; a new man and now a new woman have regained it for us. Both a man and a woman, body and soul, are back in the garden. The curse is broken, and we are set free.

But do we know that we’ve been set free? Do we remember, or have we forgot, that the victory is ours? Do we still live in fear of death? Amidst the cares, anxieties, and troubles of this world, let us not be afraid. For Jesus and our Blessed Mother have gone before us. They have both been assumed, body and soul, into heaven. They have conquered death. And where they are now, we can now hope to be one day. What a great comfort, what a true joy that is. Amen.