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DEAR FATHER | The Assumption reminds us that every human body is made in God’s image and possesses tremendous dignity

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 central beliefs of Christians. 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 not only the soul but the body as well. 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. The human person consists of a soul and a body and 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.

Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of the Church in 1950. 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. Pius declared the bodily Assumption of Mary to be a dogma only five years after the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of World War II. 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 is more in need of that reminder than ever.

Father Scott Jones is episcopal vicar for the Northern Vicariate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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