Mary’s Assumption: The Assumption That Divides Us, and the One That Also Unites Us
On this matter the two sides stand farther apart than Red Sox and Yankee fans. “Say what?” and “Are you kidding me?” and “That’s just wrong” — that’s what some of my Protestant friends tend to say if we happen to talk on August 15th. Today Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.
Pope Pius XII declared it “a divinely revealed dogma” in 1950. All he said about it is that “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
Not What My Protestant Friends Believe
The Assumption of Mary: Soooooo not what my Protestant friends believe. Not anywhere close. It expresses a very deep difference in how we read the Bible and how we understand the Church Christ gave us. It’s an Assumption that divides us. I don’t see any possibility of reconciliation without one side or the other giving in completely.
The Evangelical says “You can’t believe it because it’s not in the Bible.” The Catholic says “Yes, you can, and anyway it is there implicitly.” Pius XI said only that the dogma “is in wonderful accord with those divine truths given us in Holy Scripture.” My Evangelical friends would say, “Big whoop.”
We can’t talk sentimentally about this. Evangelicals who want to be kind to Catholics say that they can learn a lot about Jesus’s mother from them. Catholics who want to be kind to Evangelicals say they can learn a lot about the Bible from them. Completely true. And completely irrelevant here.
Those gestures don’t touch the deep, deep, deep differences. I won’t argue it now. Just remember the Red Sox and the Yankee fans.
Not the End of the Matter
The weird thing is, though, these people like each other. They see in each other people who love the Lord and live their lives for Him. I wrote about this after I first met James Robison.
As I wrote then, here were men — James and his friends — who love Jesus. The same Jesus we Catholics love. If the Lord walked into the room, they’d hit their knees as fast, if not faster, than the Catholics with them.
I suggested a test. If Jesus told them, “You go join their Church,” they’d do it. Probably not right away, and not without grumbling, and only after double- and triple-checking, but they would do it. You can’t ask more than that.
What about the Assumption of Mary? It divides us big time, yes. But the truth it points to unites us. The Catholic dogma declares that that God has already done for Jesus’s Mother what He will do for the rest of us at the end of history.
It points us to the very practical, very real, very concrete hope we have: to be ourselves, body and soul, with our Lord in Heaven. The resurrection of the dead will be our assumption.
With Mary in Gloryland
I’ve always remembered a simple hymn my childhood Baptist friends sung at their church. It began: “I’ve got a home in gloryland that out-shines the sun,” repeated three times, followed by “Way beyond the blue.”
That’s what the Catholic looks forward to as well. A home in gloryland that out-shines the sun equals Pius’s “heavenly glory.” We’d just add a verse running, “Jesus’ mother Mary has gone there before,” also repeated three times followed by “Way beyond the blue.”
This morning Pope Francis tied the Assumption to Mary’s meeting with her cousin Elizabeth and the great hymn she sang. The Magnificat, he told the people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, “sings of the merciful and faithful God who accomplishes his plan of salvation with the little and the poor, with those who have faith in him, who trust in his Word as did Mary.”
In Elizabeth’s home, “the coming of Jesus through Mary has created not only a climate of joy and fraternal communion, but also a climate of faith that leads to hope, prayer, and praise.” All this we would like to have done today in our homes, Francis said.
The Immense Gift that is Jesus
The pope then explained what Catholics do when we celebrate the Assumption. “By celebrating Mary’s most holy Assumption into Heaven, we would like once again to bring to us, to our families, to our communities, that immense gift, the unique grace that we must always ask first and above the other graces that are of the heart: the grace that is Jesus Christ!”
God loves us and wants us with Him forever. That’s the assumption that unites us, the hardest core Evangelical and the hardest core Catholic. How our Father treated one of His creatures is an assumption that for now divides us. We can live with that, as brothers and sisters who will love each forever with each other, in our home in gloryland that out-shines the sun.