It is a happy coincidence that we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Mother and the independence of our beloved motherland India on the same day. Both the feasts have ‘liberation’ as their common motif. We all know that there are four officially defined Marian dogmas in the Church beginning with the Mother of God (431 AD), Perpetual Virginity (553 AD), Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption of Blessed Mother (1950). In strict sense there have been scarcely any Mariological heresies that have led to the dogmas, but there have been Christological disputes in which Mary appeared as a figure who sanctioned Orthodox pronouncements. The first two dogmas emerged during the period of the Christological heresies and the latter ones were not in the context of heresies.
Before discussing in detail the significance of this great feast of our Blessed Mother, it is fitting that we reflect on Mary’s role in our country. We all know that Christians are less than 2% of the total population in India. We are a minority and if we were to we exclusively take the Catholics, it would be even less in number. Although we often encounter situations in which the Catholics are ridiculed by the other Christian denominations for our Marian devotions (of course not by the other religions) Mary had played and still plays a key role in making Christianity an acceptable religion in our country. In most of our shrines and holy places the people of other faiths outnumber the Catholics in honouring and venerating our Blessed mother. It would not be an exaggeration to say that many in India associate the Catholic Church with Mary. In Tamil Nadu, people identify the Catholic Church by calling it ‘Madha Kovil’ (The Church of our Lady).
Unfortunately even some of the Catholics dismiss belief and piety towards Mary as remnants of religious ignorance or superstition. This is due to the increasing atheistic western culture. There is also a danger of becoming the new atheists who hold that only people of less intelligence and culture continue to believe in supernatural realities. It does not mean that we should start believing every other apparition of Mary which people claim took place without making a proper enquiry but at the same time, if we obstinately deny all these supernatural events trusting solely on our own reason and intelligence we can also be called as new atheists. If Mary can appear in Fatima and Lourdes she can also appear in our neighbourhood, and the possibility is left open. It is true that our faith should not depend solely on miracles but let us not forget that miracles are part and parcel of our faith.
Mary had the singular privilege and was specially chosen by God. Any privilege entails responsibility. Mary makes God proud by fulfilling her responsibilities with diligence and love. She goes through the most agonizing experience of her puzzling pregnancy, gives birth to her son in a barn, wraps the child and flees to Egypt, keeps pondering at the mysteries of God, is puzzled by her son’s questions and activities, stays close to her son, when everybody else desert him, sees her son being executed as a criminal. The shame which she had to carry from the time of the Annunciation, finds its culmination in the crucifixion when her son was raised on the cross as a public criminal. Can we really call it a privilege? I wonder. But she remained faithful to God’s call till the end. Mary remains vitally united with Jesus wholly and entirely in body and soul beyond the boundaries of death which becomes the reason for her Assumption.
Mary’s fidelity to God also extended to her fellow human beings. People who are genuinely united with God will naturally extend their solidarity with their fellow human beings. It was she who subtly forced Jesus to perform his first miracle even before his appointed time. She has such an influence, that God was even willing to reschedule the appointed time. What did she say? She said, ‘Son they have no wine.’ This is the concern she showed for the poor family who hosted the wedding party. She did not want others to suffer shame which she herself suffered several times. Today she keeps telling Jesus, ‘Son they have no food, shelter, security, medicine, drinking water, employment, rights and freedom and dignity.’ This is how a person extends himself/herself to the society if he/she is really rooted in God.
As a consequence, God gave her this great privilege. The fact that she was assumed into heaven does not exclude the possibility that she died, but as Karl Rahner beautifully says ‘It is possible to speak of a special privilege in so far as the temporal interval between death and bodily glorification in Mary’s case must clearly be thought of being shorter than in the case of the saints.’ Like Jesus she also reached heaven with body and soul but we are incapable of forming an idea of the new and conditions of resurrected body’. We see how disciples saw Jesus with His same body but glorified. Rahner continues to say that she is the first to enjoy the fruit of the promise of the Resurrection of the Body.
The social context in which this dogma was proclaimed by Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus was the period immediately following World War II, which had seen human life destroyed in an unprecedented scale. The value to be attached to life and especially to the human body at that time was negligible that this dogma starts giving renewed hope to the suffering humanity.
The Assumption was an outcome of Mary’s deep relationship with God and her solidarity with the poor and marginalized. If we are contented on this day with a Solemn Eucharistic celebration followed by sumptuous meal without showing any solidarity with the suffering humanity the twin feasts will have no meaning. Sadly we will only be the spectators of our Lady’s Assumption but will never partake in that great privilege which God would give all of us if we are faithful to Him and show solidarity to the poor and the marginalized.