The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is one of the oldest and most revered feasts of the Church. The Feast is the cause of public holiday in fifty-seven countries around the world, including France and Spain, Italy and Switzerland, most of eastern Europe, and many parts of Africa. In New York City, alternate side of the street parking rules are suspended.
The American Church has, for the most part, lost touch with this feast, lost the joy it can stir up in our hearts, lost the joy and wonder and rest it can impart to our souls, we have lost the sheer “wow” of it all. Some of this loss comes from anti-Catholic bias; I have heard it said countless times, said by both clergy and lay people, that to say that the Virgin Mary was assumed into Heaven is, and I quote, “too Catholic.” For them to say that something, anything, is “too Catholic” betrays a bias against other Christians that many of these same people would never put up with if directed toward Jews or Mohammedists. The Klu Klux Klan didn’t like Catholics either.
So I guess I am too Catholic. To me, the thought of not celebrating a feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and New Eve, the woman who gave flesh to the Light of the world, the woman who stood at the foot of the Cross, the woman who will crush the head of the great Serpent, to me that thought is in itself crushing. So here we are.
The Feast itself dates back to the second or third century, the Early Church acknowledged by practice the belief that Mary was assumed into Heaven when the course of her earthly life was completed. While the celebration of the feast is sure, the details of the actual Assumption are not so sure, or maybe it is better to say that there is considerable competition over the details. Jerusalem is the overwhelming favorite for the place of Mary’s dormition, but Ephesus is a strong contender, given that Ephesus is the traditional home of Mary after Jesus ascended. Traditional accounts place Mary’s assumption anywhere from three to fifteen years after the Crucifixion, but five years after is the usual choice. There are accounts that place all of the Apostles at Mary’s bedside on the day her course was run, and accounts that have only Thomas present, but almost all accounts claim that when the Apostles went to claim the body of Mary from her tomb, no body, no bones, were found. It is telling that not a single city in the world claims any relic of the Virgin, no claims are made on her body or tomb, no claim made on the second most important person in history.
So yes, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a bit of a mystery, indeed a holy mystery, a holy mystery to be pondered by us all. But do we, or perhaps will we, ponder this mystery? Will we dare ponder it, or is it just to much for us? Will we dare ponder the Assumption like Mary herself pondered the mysteries of the Annunciation, the way she pondered Simeon’s words and her Son’s disappearance into the Temple, will we dare ponder her life as she pondered her Son’s? Will we dare keep these mysteries in our hearts, knowing that in doing so the life we would find in Christ Jesus would tear our hearts open for the sheer majesty of it all, the sheer love of it all? Will we dare, or will we settle for alternate side of the street parking?