20th Sunday Ordinary Time
August 19, 2018
When I am teaching a class about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I usually start with the question, ”How many resurrected bodies do we know are in heaven right now?” The answer, of course, is that there are at least two: Jesus and his mother. Jesus’ ascension is found in scripture; Mary’s Assumption is not. So, why do we believe this?
First of all, in the Old Testament, Elijah was caught up in a whirlwind and taken up to heaven in a chariot directly from earth without dying (2 Kings 2:8ff); Enoch was another friend of God who did not die “because God took him” (Genesis 5:24). So, survival of the body after death is already implied in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, after Jesus rose from the dead, many saints came out of their tombs bodily and appeared to the believers (Matthew 27:52-53). What happened to them after that? Does any believer really think these saints then went back into their tombs, closed the door and died again? Obviously, they are already sharing in the bodily resurrection of the dead with Jesus.
It is true that most of us will have to wait until the end of the world to be reunited with our bodies after death. While the soul lives on, the body will remain on earth, but only for a time, for we are not fully human, even in heaven, without our resurrected bodies; but what will rise will be a glorified body.
In light of these biblical realities, it would be odd if Mary didn’t share in the bodily resurrection of the dead. This is because Mary was conceived without sin, in anticipation of her son’s birth, for how could the Son of God have taken flesh from a woman born into sin? Therefore, death, the penalty of sin, could not hold Mary’s body.
We know that the early Church believed in the Assumption, because from the earliest times there have been Churches dedicated to Mary’s Assumption into heaven. The one question the church has never answered is whether or not she died first. We will not know the answer to that one in this life. Mary’s Assumption is a feast for us all, because God’s will is that all believers will one day live with him, body and soul, like Mary, in heaven.