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The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(some time in the first century)
Your plan for a new apologetics club looks, if I may be honest, excellent. I am certain that setting up your booth during freshmen orientation (it’s hard to believe another school year has already appeared on the doorstep, isn’t it?) will stir up enough interest to garner good numbers for the first meeting. And if you follow your plan, everyone who comes to that meeting will bring their friends to the next one because it will have been so interesting. Having had to deal with challenges to the Catholic faith in countless situations over the past decades, I would like to offer you, as you begin your new venture, a word of wisdom.
It has to do with a surefire structure for any defense or explanation of a Catholic doctrine or practice that may come under fire. It’s the simplest thing, but it helps give focus, balance, and composure to discussions that too often lack those qualities (and bear little fruit because of it). You see, because the Catholic faith is true, any single point of doctrine or practice can always be explained/defended from three different perspectives, at least one of which is almost bound to strike your listener as convincing (and all three together tend only to add power to the punch). The three perspectives are 1) common sense, 2) history, and 3) the Bible. Even when it takes a real act of faith to accept a particular teaching, these three avenues of argumentation will at least prepare the ground for that such an act of faith by showing how reasonable the truths of faith are. Let’s illustrate them with the subject of today’s Solemnity: Mary’s Assumption.
Here’s what the dogma actually affirms (as expressed in Pius XII’s declaration of the dogma in 1950 and reiterated by the Catechism): “… the Immaculate Virgin… when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” The Catechism goes on to add that “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.” (#966)
The dogma has all kinds of wonderful spiritual implications, but those won’t interest someone who objects to the truth of the fact. So you explain it first with Common Sense. Mary was truly Jesus’ mother. Jesus loved her more than any of us love our mothers (because he was free from all taint of selfishness, which reduces our capacity to love). Now, if you or I were to become King of the World, would we not give our mothers a special share in our glory if we had the power to do so, especially if our promotion had happened justly? Of course. So it only makes sense that Jesus would reward his beloved mother in a special way. That he chose to do so by assuming her, body and soul, into heaven when her earthly mission was complete is, from this perspective, quite reasonable.
But history adds to the weight of common sense. We know that the mortal remains of all of Jesus’ closest companions, of all the people who had key roles in the early Church (Peter, Paul, the other Apostles, the martyrs…), were carefully preserved and venerated by the early Christians. It was actually a kind of a craze among the first generations of Christians, a craze that continued even into the Middle Ages and beyond – everyone clamored for the most renowned relics. Thus we have the Catacombs, the shrines, the great Basilicas built over the tombs of the Apostles, etc. Mary, being Jesus’ mother and having a key role not only in his life but also in the early years of the Church, would have been a prime candidate for this kind of veneration. And yet, there is absolutely no record of any church or community or individual ever laying claim to the mortal remains of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. That she was assumed body and soul into heaven would be a perfect explanation for this odd fact. (The early appearance of this doctrine and its celebration in the early Church’s liturgy is another historical argument, but you get the idea…)
Finally, the Bible weighs in as well. First of all, there is precedent in the Old Testament for God’s assuming exceptionally holy people into heaven – Enoch and Elijah both had the privilege. Secondly, the typology of the Kingdom of Israel fits perfectly (uncannily, in fact) with the dogma of the Assumption. First of all, the Queen in ancient Israel was always the Queen Mother (the kings had too many wives to make one of them the Queen – it would have caused revolutions of envy in the palace). And when the King took his throne, he would raise (assume) his Mother to his side. So we see Solomon greeting his mother Bathsheba when she came to him after his inauguration: “So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. The king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right.” (1 King 2:19) He set up a throne for her; he assumed her into his royal glory.
There you have it: common sense, history, the Bible – every Catholic doctrine or point of discipline can be thus explained.
Well, I’ve gone on longer than I planned. I always get excited when I use the Triptych (three-ply) method of Apologetics. I hope you find it useful.
Your loving uncle, Eddy