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DEAR FATHER | Mary’s assumption reminds us that every human body is part of God’s eternal plan

I understand the reason why Jesus ascended into heaven, but I don’t understand the purpose of the assumption of Mary. What does it mean?

Many people ask this question, which remains one of the issues that divide Roman Catholics from most Protestant denominations. Certainly, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven are among our central Christian beliefs. They are referred to many times in the New Testament and are part of the Nicene Creed. As many non-Catholic Christians point out, there is no direct mention of Mary’s assumption in the New Testament, although it has been part of our tradition from the earliest centuries.

The best way to understand why Mary’s body was “assumed” into heaven at the time of her death is how it relates to our own final destiny. As Christians, we profess a belief in the resurrection of the dead. This resurrection involves both the soul and the body. Early heretics such as the Gnostics argued that the soul was the only real part of the human person and the body was simply a “fleshly prison.” We reject that notion and believe that the human person consists of a soul and a body; both were redeemed by Christ. Both are by design included in God’s plan for our eternity. By a singular grace, Mary is now what we will one day be.

It wasn’t until 1950 that Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary an infallible dogma of the Church. (In fact, it was the only time the pope has declared an infallible dogma since papal infallibility itself was made a dogma at the First Vatican Council in 1870.) Of all the teachings of the Church, why would Pius have chosen the assumption of Mary to exercise the charism of infallibility?

As has been frequently pointed out, the timing was everything. Pope Pius declared the bodily assumption of Mary to be a dogma only five years after the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Second World War. During those years, millions of people were ranked as physically inferior to a so-called “master race” and exterminated. It went beyond race; persons who were physically or mentally handicapped were also murdered. By declaring the bodily assumption of Mary to be a dogma, Pope Pius reminded the world that every human body is made in God’s image and possesses tremendous dignity. Every human body is part of God’s eternal plan.

Given the current prevalence of racism, pornography, and rigid notions of beauty, the world still needs that reminder.

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