The Assumption 15 Aug 2018

posted 15 Aug 2018, 03:23 by Parish Office

Homily for the Assumption, 15/8/18


By celebrating the Assumption of Our Lady today, we are continuing in a tradition that goes back formally to at least the fifth century.  Yet there is evidence of belief in the Assumption going back even further than this; for example, the lack of any evidence of attempts to sell supposed relics of Our Lady, since it was known that her body had been assumed into heaven.  Furthermore, by celebrating the Assumption, we connect ourselves to English Catholics who lived in the mediaeval times, for whom it was the most important of all festivals of Our Lady.  Many churches and other religious foundations were named after the Assumption, such as Salisbury Cathedral and Eton College.


So if this is the case, why was the Assumption only declared infallibly by the Pope as a dogma just sixty-one years ago, and why did it need to be declared anyway, if everyone believed in it (in the Catholic Church, anyway)?  Well, often Church teaching develops in response to attack of one sort or another.  It was in response to heresy about who Christ is that the Church developed her creeds, doctrines and dogmas on who Christ is.  Today, it is other areas of Church teaching that are under attack.


It has been claimed that the Assumption, being declared in 1950, was done so in response to the Second World War.  Human life had been destroyed on a vast scale, far greater, seemingly, than ever before, and there was still the possibility of a future war involving nuclear weapons.  Furthermore, human life had been devalued by the Nazi eugenics programme, with certain people being declared as “life unworthy of life”, and in some cases, used for experiments.  Of course, not only the Nazis were guilty of human rights abuses; the US experimented on its own soldiers to see what the results of nuclear exposure would be.  So at a time when human life had been so devalued, the declaration of the Assumption was speaking about the value of the human person, including the human body.  Our Lady was immaculately conceived, yes.  She lived without even committing the smallest sin, yes.  It was already a dogma that Our Lady was ever-virgin – just as a chalice is consecrated and set aside for the worship of God alone, so Mary was set aside for God alone in this sense.  But to crown it all, this body of Our Lady was not allowed to corrupt in the grave.  It’s not that God thought that because Our Lady had a pure soul, her soul was able to go to heaven, but that her body didn't matter.  Rather, both were important.  Both were therefore to enjoy the bliss of heaven.


When people try to understand the relationship between the body and the soul, there's always the danger of seeing ourselves as being a bit like the  Daleks.  Apparently, many people were surprised when it was revealed in Doctor Who that the Daleks were not those machine-like robots with a gun, camera and sink-plunger.  Rather, they were little creatures that lived inside machines with a gun, camera and sink-plunger.  The relationship between the human body and the human soul is not like that.  The body is not a machine inhabited by a human blob-like element called a soul.  Rather body and soul are profoundly united and, apart from death, inseparable.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that a statue is made up of form (i.e. a certain shape) and matter.  The two cannot be separated.  The Church has used this idea to say that the soul’s relationship to the body is similar to the form of a statue to its matter.  Soul and body cannot be separated either.  The Catechism put it like this:  “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, bu rather their union forms a single nature” (no. 365).  If you don't understand what I've just said, just remember that the soul and body are so united that they form one human being – they are not two distinct things like the Dalek and the machine.


This understanding of the value, dignity and worth of the human body shapes many things.  Catholic worship does not just involve the mind, but also the body.  That's why we make the sign of the cross, genuflect, use bells and incense, beautifully decorate the church, bow the head, beat the breast, sit, stand and kneel.  We pray using the body.  But it also has a moral dimension.  We treat other human bodies with respect.  So we don't tolerate torture; we come to the aid of those suffering hunger; we are concerned about safe living and working conditions; we work for an end to homelessness; we work to end embryo experimentation; and we treat the bodies of the deceased with respect.  All of these flow from the Catholic understanding of the value of both body and soul, exemplified in the Assumption of Our Lady.


So the next time you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary (the Assumption), see it as an important mystery, one that safeguards the dignity of the human body against many ideas that treat it as no more than a machine to be used.