THE ASSUMPTION OF ALL THINGS
The Assumption of Our Lady is a doctrine that can be difficult for modern people to understand, particularly those of us who come from a Protestant background I suppose. But there are aspects of the teaching or its spiritual or mystical interpretation that should be of value to us all.
First some history. It was on November 1, 1950 that the Roman Pope Pius XII declared the doctrine of the bodily assumption of our Lady into heaven to be an "infallible" teaching for his denomination. That's rather late in the day for a new Christian teaching to pop up! It wasn't a new idea however, for the Assumption had been a widely-held tradition in both the Eastern and the Western branches of the Christian Church for well over a thousand years, in one form or another. It actually goes back to the Old Testament for Mary is not the first to have been “assumed” into heaven. First let me quote some Scripture:
- Genesis 5:24: Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
- Hebrews 11:5: By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.
- 2 Kings 2:11-12: As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more.
- 1 Maccabees 2:58 in the Apocrypha: Elijah, because of his great devotion to the Law, was taken up into heaven
- 1 Thessalonians 4:17 describing the end of time: After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. [ Presumably, lots of people get Assumed here.]
Second, what about tradition?
- In 2 Thess. 2:15 Paul instructs us to honor oral (not just written) tradition. Apostolic tradition says Mary was assumed into heaven. As proof of the early tradition regarding Mary--While claiming the bones of the saints was a common practice during early times (In fact, Churches stole the bones of Martyrs from one another.) but Mary’s bones were never claimed. This is because they were not available. Tradition said that Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven.
So Mary is not unique in being assumed into heaven and Tradition supports the idea, but does it matter to us as Christians?
The Liberal Catholic movement has the feast of the Assumption as one of our fairly few observances outside the regular sequence of Sundays. Where do we find this feast? It certainly wouldn't seem necessary to the faith of a Christian. But Origen of Alexandria reminded us that we should then look to the inner, spiritual meaning within the external events, if those physical events are either improbable or don’t seem to warrant the importance given to them, if they are to deserve that importance. That is the purpose of this sermon.
Let's review the standard doctrine: in the Western Catholic Churches it is usually taught that Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus, was in body and soul assumed after her death into heavenly glory. Contrast this with the Old Testament where death wasn’t necessary. This doctrine cannot be found in the very early Church, but it is present in some of the Gnostic writings of the 4th Century. It may have been condemned by the majority Church of the time as heresy. That would not be the first last time that a heresy passed into the main stream of the Faith. (Eternal torment/damnation for the "unsaved" is another teaching that doesn’t appear in the New Testament, then started outside the Church, and finally became the majority belief. For the first 500 years of Christianity Universalism, as taught in the Liberal Catholic Movement of which the Universal Catholic Church is a part, was the majority belief but outside influences and apparently the need to frighten the people in order to assert control took control--so we Universalists are probably now a minority position in Christianity. [Universalism is the belief that all will be united with God. As the song says, “There’s no need to be saved, No need to be afraid, Cause when it’s done, God takes everyone.”]
The Assumption of our Holy Lady Mary has long since passed into superstition for many Catholic faithful Indeed, if we concentrate on historical events, that can be real danger. But if we concentrate on the larger view, I think that there is hidden within the bible stories and early Christian traditions, truths that are universal. Therefore, what appears at first to be a miracle or a kind of strange, rather pointless, violation of natural law can, in fact, be a demonstration of something timeless. That is, the story and doctrine of the Assumption are a demonstration, either to the physic senses or in mystic vision, of something much broader than the events of a few individual lives thousand of years ago.
God as Absolute, the God who IS, is always ONE but God in manifestation is dual (while remaining a Trinity). That duality is illustrated by pairs such as spirit and matter force and form, and so on. In fact, every kind of duality we see about us in the created world is somehow traceable to this underlying duality at the heart of the cosmos itself That's pretty standard Christian doctrine. Jesus said, "I, if be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me." [John 12: 32] That is one of the ciphers that opens the door to understanding of the Assumption Problem for us. What is the "Assumption Problem?" The problem is that the standard teaching seems just a warm, fuzzy, superstition.
A second key to the problem is found when we conceive of the Blessed Mother as Mother of Us All. To give away the conclusion of this talk, the doctrine of the Assumption gives us positive assurance that, eventually, we will all be raised—that is assumed—into God's Being to become a self-conscious One with Him or, as St. Paul puts it, to be "made perfect."
Now, back to the dual nature of God. We have a tendency to think of God as male: at the extremes either as a vindictive war lord, or as a forgiving grandfather with a long, white beard, or, in the middle, as a loving Father who wants us to grow into perfection. Even this middle ground is limiting—as is anything that we can say about God. To examine the Assumption we need to approach God from another aspect: God is both male and female.
We must realize that our highest conception of Deity (in manifestation) combines all that is best in all the characteristics attributed to both sexes—though it goes beyond that of course. In Oriental religions this underlying masculinity-femininity behind the manifested world is openly acknowledged. In the Catholic tradition, the feminine aspect has found open recognition mostly in the veneration of the Blessed Lady Mary, although the Holy Spirit has also been described as feminine.
Let us list examples of the masculine and feminine aspects of Creation:
Strength The great “sea” of primal
Scientific Direction Tenderness
Destroying and Chastising Compassion & Harmony
Remember that we are not saying in a literal sense that God is Strength and is Compassion [God is God!] but rather that manifestation is brought about by the interaction of powers that lie "behind" these qualities that we find in the world around us. As Bp. Wedgwood wrote, “Thus it is said that the energizing force or power of the Logos, the Divine Word, breathed life into the great Sea of Virgin Matter, initiating the whole process of creation of all the worlds. Whenever, at any level (physical spiritual, etc.), there is a perfect co-working between these two aspects of the divine, we have in manifestation an ‘image of eternity.’ At one level, Christ is born in Bethlehem; and at another, the ‘Christ- Child’ is born in our own hearts, and by this we participate in the divine manifestation.”
The supreme, visible, earthly example of this co-working of spirit and matter in Catholic tradition is the symbol of the Mother of Jesus; she is a living icon, as it were, of the union of a human body and soul with the Feminine Aspect of Deity. Her assumption into Heaven opens the mind and soul to the living experience of the perfection of all material forms. From Her arises that wisdom and peace that shall in time possess a glorified material world. For you see, the world is not evil: it is of God and is good.
Christ is the power and force within creation. He descends into matter and ascends by His own volition, by His own force; but Mary represents the negative aspect of the One God, she, having nursed all creation to the point where it is ready to reflect the Creator, is drawn up by the Creator's will. Mary is assumed into heaven, and so it is that at every level that we can imagine, matter is risen and glorified, through perfect co-working with directing Power.
And that's the truth of the Assumption!
In conclusion, let us all remember the words of Mary, and let them sound through every level of creation:
BE IT UNTO ME ACCORDING TO THY WORD
for it is necessary to voluntarily open our hearts to accept the power of the Word. When we fully submit to that power, in the spirit of our Lady, we will be freed from the prison of illusion, and we will understand those words which also sound through every level of creation:
MY SOUL DOTH MAGNIFY THE LORD, AND MY SPIRIT DOTH REJOICE IN GOD MY SAVIOUR
for in us, matter and spirit will have formed their conjunction; our hearts will have come to rest in Him who has made us for Himself, and we ourselves will have made our contribution toward the assumption of all material creation into its true perfection and glory.
And thus, what was pointed to at ancient times and in one region of the world, will become for us a truth shining in our time and at every place through all our lives.
by Archbishop Bekken