Today Catholics all over the world celebrate and remember the day when the Blessed Virgin Mary’s body and soul were “assumed” into heaven—The Assumption. Being conceived without the stain of original sin, Mary escaped the decay of death and now enjoys that perfect unity with God for which we have all been created. The Church calls what we would think of as her death as “dormition” or “falling asleep” at the completion of her earthly life. The Assumption and the Immaculate Conception of Mary are inextricably bound together. By applying the salvific graces of Christ’s redemption at the moment of her conception, Mary escaped our destiny of death and decay. For those who may struggle with the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her Assumption, remember that God is not bound by space and time as we are—God is God and we are not!
As my pastor said during his homily at this morning’s Mass, the Blessed Mother, as the Immaculate Conception, gives us plenty of food for thought about the role of suffering in Mary’s life. For example, did Mary experience the pain of childbirth, did she get sick, and so on? We know directly from Scripture of the terrible emotional pain that Mary suffered when losing the child Jesus in the temple and then later witnessing the passion and death of Jesus. No doubt there were many occasions of confusion and grief for the Blessed Mother. Anyone that has reared a child knows that suffering and pain is part of the motherhood equation. Given that Mary’s sinless life was still burdened with suffering this should lead us to ask if there is another way to view suffering—a way that does not come naturally for us—a redemptive way of viewing suffering. The Theology of Redemptive Suffering is that great gift of Catholic theology to us.
Today’s feast takes me back to a memory from my past.
|The Assumption of Mary by Peter Paul Rubens|
The image shown to the left is from page 83 of my book, Bead by Bead: The Scriptural Rosary. Peter Paul Rubens completed this massive painting in 1626 as the main altarpiece for the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium. It remains there to this day. The painting took Rubens 15 years from concept to completion.
During my forties, I spent many weeks at a hotel in Antwerp located on Gorenplats (Green Square) across the from the Cathedral of Our Lady. Although Mass is still celebrated in the Cathedral, I do not know if the Cathedral remains open as it was years ago affording the opportunity for people to enter at their leisure. (The world was not quite as crazy as it is today.)
The first time I entered the Cathedral, I was still hung over from jet lag. It was a Sunday afternoon and I timed my visit well after any Mass would have been celebrated. I was not a practicing Catholic or even an avowed Christian at the time. I knew nothing about the art inside, but I was intrigued by the outer architecture of the cathedral.
As I stepped inside the cathedral, the only available light streamed through the stained glass windows. Being alone, I walked up to the altar to “take in” the majesty of the 15.8 ft by 10.7 ft Ruben's painting more clearly. Even in the non-optimal late-afternoon light, the beauty of this commanding painting conveyed a labor of love that was both infectious and breathtaking. How I would love to go back to that cathedral now for the celebration of Mass!
Ruben uses poetic license in his interpretation of the Assumption as a choir of angels escorts Mary from a would-be-tomb surrounded by the apostles—many of whom are shocked by Mary ascending into heaven.
Awe and appreciation of such exquisite religious art, such as Ruben’s The Assumption of Mary, fails to escape the agnostic, atheist, or non-Christian believer in God. In beauty, we find God—whether we are looking for Him or not. All that is beautiful pulls us towards the One that is Perfect Beauty. Our intrinsic love and attraction to beauty are great gifts from our passionate and persistent God who uses all of His creation and our artistic creations to draw us to Himself.