During my novitiate year in 1950 Pope Pius XII declared as a dogma to be believed by Catholics as a matter of Faith that 'Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven'.
Many of us reacted, 'What's new? For years we've been reciting the Glorious Mystery of the Holy Rosary, "The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven."' For centuries this has been accepted as part of the believing and devotional life of the Catholic Church.
Why, then, under-score what was already taken for granted? One reason, among many others, could be that the dogmatic definition of Mary's Assumption into Heaven emphatically affirmed the feminine bodily-ness of her humanity.
The Preface of the Solemnity proclaims 'The Virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way.' And then describes how fitting it was that God 'would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to His Son, the Lord of all life, in the glory of the Incarnation.'
What was uniquely glorious during her life on earth is now uniquely glorious in her life in eternity. Mary was essentially, vitally, involved in the redemption of mankind through her child, Jesus, whom she had carried in her womb, brought to birth, and suckled - the Son of God himself.
Jesus gave great glory to his heavenly Father in and through the humanity that he had received from his mother. In his so doing Jesus was himself supremely glorious in the fullness of his humanity - body, together with soul.
Indeed, it was through his mother, Mary, that the Son of God was a full member of the human family. Mary gave great glory to God in her mothering of the Saviour, and in her being there at the foot of the cross giving loving, motherly support to her dying Son, . In so doing Mary was herself supremely, uniquely glorious in the fullness of her humanity.
We, through our baptisms, are united with Jesus as members of his Body, which is the Church. With this in mind, St. Paul cajoles the Christians of Corinth living in a milieu that he considered to be sexually hyper-active, 'Do you not realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you received from God? You are not your own property, then; you have been bought at a price. So use your body for the glory of God.'
Your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit! …Use your body for the glory of God! This is exciting Good News that needs to be proclaimed in our day when men and women are regarded as sex objects, and even consider themselves no better than this - devoid of dignity as human persons. Is not human parenting also being debased with genetic engineering, in vitro fertilizations, and cloning which are paraded as clever and acceptable substitutes or replacements for the two-in-one-flesh coupling of spouses who are bonded together in love?
Where is reverence for the human body in a world of terrorism and of weapons of mass destruction; a world that has the resources and skills to provide for the hungry but acquiesces to the starvation of millions; a world that deprives the frail and sickly of easily available life-saving medicines?
Contemplation of the Assumption of Mary should convince us that upon this canvas of contempt for the bodily-ness of each human being we Christians must paint a message of beauty and of hope, one that inspires and one that cherishes, one that respects and safeguards, one that loves the human body here and now, and reaches out into eternity.