Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Meaning of the Assumption

Happy Feast Day! This is truly one of our biggest celebrations in Madonna House, next to Christmas and Easter. A day of joy and gladness in the company of the Mother of God, radiant in God’s glory.
I thought today I would simply give you an excerpt from my book She is Our Response, on the Virgin Mary in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger, the book that was the genesis of this blog in the first place. It’s a bit long, but hopefully not too technical. Enjoy!
Finally, the dogma of the Assumption orients man to the future in truth. The historical consciousness of modern man and the ideology of historical progress are here met by the true future of the human person. The ideological visions of the future provided by Marx or the scientific future of post-humanism are achieved at the expense of the individual. But in Mary assumed into heaven, the future of man is seen as both ultimate and cosmic on the one hand, and on the other as embracing the person in their unique personality and concrete identity:

[Of the 1950 promulgation of the dogma, Ratzinger writes], we were enthused that in an age which has rediscovered the future and is filled with faith in progress; an age which refuses to be tied to the past… an age in which the human person seems to be a being of the future… that in such an age the Church did not bid us turn our gaze to the past as might have been expected of her. Instead, she turned us to the future by interpreting the human personand this on the basis of her faith—as a being who is yet to come, a being with an endless future, a being who can attain full stature only by advancing. We were enthused that in an age which has rediscovered matter and this earth of ours and has no place for any flight to a world beyond, but loves the earth, cleaves to it, seeks to taste all its preciousness, and wants to live by and of the earth, the Church again did not respond with an anathema. Instead, she intoned a hymn to the earth and its permanence. Once again, she spoke more magnanimously and more forcefully of the earth’s glory than we ourselves would dare have done.” Dogma and Preaching, 113

In Mary’s standing as the one who, wholly as creature, transcends death and dissolution, the pathway out of futility into hope is made clear in its finality. It is the path described aboveembodied freedom abandoning itself in faith to God. By surrendering her physicality to God so that He could make her fruitful, Mary embodies personally the reconfiguration of human life that salvation has worked, a reconfiguration that removes the ambivalence of mortality and defeat that hangs over the whole of human history and establishes man as truly immortal by the grace of the risen Christ. Mary, by giving birth to Life itself, stands in her assumed glory as the sign and actual attainment of this reality:

The way human life is, implanted in a world where death is the condition of life, birth is always ambivalent, simultaneously a dying and a becoming… birth is part of death, it happens under the sign of death, and points to the death that it in a certain sense anticipates, prepares, and also presupposes… now if Mary is really the one giving birth to God, is she bears him who is the death of death and is life in the full sense of the word, this being the mother of God is really a ‘new birth’: a new way of giving birth inserted into the old way. Daughter Zion, 78.

In terms of the translation of this victory over death from Mary to the Church, Ratzinger links death to the very project of self-determination that pervades modernity. Death results from the futile attempt to secure one’s own life in independent and autonomous being (cf. Gen 3). Mary, in her self-abandonment to God, has nothing of death in her; she is wholly alive. The redeemed individual, insofar as he or she renounces the project of self-determination, is open to receive the life from above that bears him or her over the frontier of death:

We are mortal due to the usurped autarchy of a determination to remain within ourselves, which proves to be a deception. Death, the impossibility of giving oneself a foothold, the collapse of autarchy, is not merely a somatic but a human phenomenon of all-embracing profundity. Nevertheless, where the innate propensity to autarchy is totally lacking, where there is the pure self-dispossession of the one who does not rely upon himself (= grace) death is absent, even if the somatic end is present. Instead the whole human being enters salvation, because as a whole, undiminished, he stands eternally in God’s life-giving memory that preserves him as himself in his own life. Daughter Zion, 79

Finally, Mary assumed into heaven body and soul communicates the ultimate reality and goodness of human life. Her whole person is carried intact into an unending communion with God and hence unending life. This implies that the whole of the human person has an eternal value and destiny: “Heaven means that God has a place for human beings and gives them an eternal existence.” (Dogma and Preaching, 116). The bodily nature of the Assumption further communicates a continuity between the life of earth and the immortal life to come. “Who and what we are now” and “who and what we are to become” are seen, in the Assumpta, as one continuous personal identity. And this identity is ultimately sustained and rendered valid and real not by the effort of man or the cleverness of man, but by the gracious love of the Father which embraces man and lifts him up beyond himself:

Anyone whom God loves never ceases to be. In him, in his thinking and loving, it is not just a shadow of us that continues in being; rather, in him and his creative love we ourselves, with all that we are and all that is most ourselves, are preserved immortally and forever in being. It is his love that makes us immortal… The Assumption means… that God knows and loves the entire person which we are now. The immortal is that which is now growing and developing in our present life… what is imperishable is whatever we have become in our present bodily state; whatever has developed and grown in us, in our present life, among and by means of the things of this world. “Christianity promises that what has transpired on this earth will be eternal. Nothing of what is precious and valuable to us will be lost… this final and abiding world will be the fulfillment of this earth of ours. Dogma and Preaching, 116-7.

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