There are many things that you can laugh at in religion, and everyone except the most severe of practitioners will enjoy laughter. But church leaders often advise, whatever you do, not to tell jokes about the Blessed Mother. You can joke about God or Jesus or the Pope and no one cares. Tell Mary a joke and someone is bound to be offended.
As a result, I only know of one joke about Mary. This is the one you have heard before about Jesus standing in the crowd chanting, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Immediately, a stone whistles through the air and lands at Jesus’ feet. “Mother,” our Lord said wearily, “I thought I told you to stay home today. “
The humor here is based on Mary’s exceptionalism: she breaks all the rules just by showing up. Mary is conceived without sin. She is a virgin who is also a mother and a woman who dies without having known the corruption of the grave. He is a potential strike force, even when his divine son is the teacher. Mary, as her Magnificat suggests, is she whom “all generations will call. . . blessed ”, this is how Holy mother ends up being his most familiar nickname.
This month, the observance of the Assumption of Mary falls on a Sunday. This means that we get a double: the chance to fulfill the obligation of the holy day and of Sunday with a single liturgy. The celebration of the Assumption of Mary on Sunday also draws attention to the holiday, as more people will likely be in attendance. A holy day in the middle of the summer week is easy to space out or spend on vacation before realizing we’ve missed it. This year, there is no excuse. The homilist will have to step up his game to get the message across. What can a preacher say about this dogma that will not cause an all too familiar yawn?
What is going on with the hypothesis anyway, other than the Madonna herself? There is no scriptural record of this event, and the church fathers or mothers have noted no such tradition. The Hypothesis is a teaching that has gradually emerged in the consciousness of the church through centuries of devotion, prayer and theology: a product of the sensus fidei (“Sense of the faithful”) if there is one. Its origins in the people’s sense of what is right remind us that Catholicism is founded on both scripture and tradition.
Understanding the Church is not a static, closed, and airless thing, an immutable deposit of truth that stifles any attempt to push consciousness forward. If you’ve heard the opposite, consider that Mary of Nazareth lived 2,000 years ago, yet the tradition regarding her assumption was made dogmatic by Pope Pius XII in 1950. It’s a long, long time for an idea infiltrates.
How has the concept of the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven been promoted as a teaching? You could say that it was born out of the love that believers have always had for this exceptional woman. Maternal love is deeply rooted in human history and Marian devotion is its highest expression. Visit the Holy Land today and you will find as many great sites venerating Mary as those honoring her son. There is a church dedicated to the parents of Mary, Joachim and Anne, who are not listed in the biblical records, but our desire to know them has made it essential that they emerge from the shadows of history with names and a shading. You can visit Mary’s well in Nazareth, where her meeting with the angel Gabriel is said to have taken place. The site honoring the visit of Mary and Elizabeth is now visited by millions. The place of the manger in Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth to the hope of the world, is not far from a cave dedicated to Mary’s breast milk, where hopeful mothers leave their prayers and return later photos of the resulting children. Nazareth contains a house where Mary is said to have lived with Joseph and Jesus.
Maternal love is deeply rooted in human history and Marian devotion is its highest expression.
If you want to venerate the event of Mary’s death, the Catholic Basilica of the Dormition as well as the Orthodox Tomb of the Virgin Mary offer two remarkable and poignant places in Jerusalem to meditate on the hour leading up to the feast of the Holy Virgin Mary. ‘Assumption we commemorate in August.
What has happened historically on the deathbed of the woman called forever blessed? Scripture doesn’t stop to tell us that. Yet, believers’ thirst for knowledge will not be denied. The biblical account tells us that the mother of the Lord, named the mother of the beloved disciple on the cross, remained with the community after the crucifixion. Scripture notes that she was in the upper room when the church was born on Pentecost. It would have been natural, even after Mary’s death, for the community to remain close to her in their prayers and intercessions.
The first Marian feast dates back to Jerusalem in the fifth century, where the celebration of the Theotokos, or God-bearer, was observed on August 15. The holiday was originally celebrated at a location reminiscent of his trip to Bethlehem. Shortly after, he was transferred to a basilica venerating his tomb.
The displacement of this feast of the bearers of God is revealing. The distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is geographically short. The distance between the identity of Mary as bearer of God and the episode of her death is theologically reduced by this juxtaposition. The Gospel of Luke assures us in the story of the Annunciation that Mary is prepared in advance by heaven for the divine abode on the verge of submerging her history. If she was prepared before the fact in her perfect obedience, then she would necessarily be preserved after the fact of the corruption of the tomb. For death and its effects are the consequences of sin – a consequence that Mary’s immaculate obedience did not engage.
Mary remains a unique vessel of God from her first encounter with heaven until eternity. The displacement of the feast of the bearer of God from the way of the nativity to the deathbed of Mary shows that the faithful connected the dots in this way as early as the fifth century. Already theological parentheses were emerging from beginning to end around the body of this woman. This unique vessel would find itself encapsulated by traditions of design and immaculate assumption at each end of its exclusive history.
Some personalities are too imbued with divine life for death to make its typical claims on them.
In the sixth century in the eastern church, the Augustus Theotokos The feast had entirely focused on Mary’s dormancy, or soft sleep in death. In the West, the holiday came to be known as the Assumption in another century. These two moments seem distinct but are only separated by a heartbeat. Dormition is the story of how Mary dies. The hypothesis reveals what happens next.
The assumptions were not new in the biblical tradition. Elijah has one in 2 Kings 2 when he is carried into the heavens by a chariot of fire. Moses, Isaiah, and other prophets have similar traditions recorded regarding their deaths. This is why the transfiguration includes apparitions of Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus, much like the Marian apparitions will be recorded throughout history. Some personalities are too imbued with divine life for death to make its typical claims on them.
All of these later appearances of Mary in history, like her assumption itself, entered the tradition of the church not because a pope said so. They are part of our history because of the sensus fidei, because it makes sense for many people that the Blessed Mother whom they know and love chooses to stay close to her children.
This article also appears in the August 2021 issue of US Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 8, pages 47-49). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Image: Diptych of the Virgin Mary, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution