Our Lady’s Assumption, By Daniel A. Lord, S. J. Part 1.

THE year is 451 A.D. The place is the city of Chalcedon in Asia Minor. The occasion is the famous council, to which Christian history turns back respectfully.
All of that seems remote enough from our day and age. Yet it is linked, with that close unity which is Catholic, to the present moment and to a widespread movement that is capturing the attention of the Catholic world.

Into the assembly of the deliberating Fathers walked the Roman Emperor Marcian. His eyes are eager, and he makes of the assembly a surprising request.

“Find for me,” he begs, “the body of God’s Mother It is my imperial desire and determination to build for it a beautiful shrine. Surely this immaculate body is the world’s most precious relic and deserves for its monument a mighty basilica. If you will find me the immaculate body of Mary, I will have it sealed in the sacred security of a golden casket and placed under an altar of marble and precious stones. Find for me, I beg of you, reverend Fathers, the body that was once the shrine of the Incarnate Word of God.”


There was a childlike simplicity about the request. The assembled Fathers hesitated. They knew where the bodies of Peter and Paul rested in the honoured security of the Vatican. The Cross of Christ, recovered by St. Helena, mother of Constantine, was once more safe in the keeping of the Church. The bones of the martyrs and the virgins slain during the first days of Christianity had been placed in beautiful reliquaries or under the altars of a thousand churches. But no city or cathedral or shrine or reliquary had ever so much as claimed to possess the body of the Mother of God. That was a relic which the Church had never been permitted to possess.

Then arises in the midst of the assembly St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem. The story that he tells is the simple narrative of what happened after the death of Mary, a story that was handed down in the memory of the Christians of Jerusalem. The assembled Fathers know it well. But we can imagine the Emperor leaning forward and listening with strained and delighted interest.


The day had come, said St. Juvenal, in substance, when the common doom of all Adam’s children was to fall upon the Mother of God. It had fallen upon her Son; now it was to seek out His Mother. Mary lay upon her bed waiting for death.

Time had touched her with a light hand, for it is sin, not time, that ages and destroys. She was beautiful in her maturity; lovely even in the evening of life.

Moved by a common impulse that was the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, scattered to the far corners of the earth in their apostolate, returned to the death-bed of their Queen. They had clung to her in the terrifying days that followed the death of Christ. . They had delayed fearfully about her in the interval that followed the departure of her Son in the Ascension. They were with her in the vitalising Pentecost when the Holy Ghost came upon them and lifted their timorous spirits to heights of apostolic heroism.

From her dwelling, the Cenacle, they had gone out to their world-wide mission, leaving her in the care of John, her adopted son. But she had always been their Mother and Queen, their strength in sorrow, their inspiration in their apostolate, the bond of their unity with one another and with Christ, their Master and her Son.


Now, with death near, they re-assembled about her bed, sons reunited about their dying Mother, messengers of Christ hurrying back to be with Christ’s Mother in the last few hours before her soul found its blessed release and escaped joyously into the presence of her Son. What messages they must have entrusted to her who was so soon to see their beloved Master!
Quietly and without agony she died. There were no lamentations about her death-bed. Though the hearts of the Apostles were torn with grief, as they saw her eyes close in a calm, unbroken sleep, and her merciful hands fold in a final gesture of prayer upon her breast, and, though they realised with a sharp pang that they would never again hear her repeat the story of Christ’s thirty hidden years nor receive her wise counsel and encouragement in their difficult work of world conquest, they could not long be sad.

Without Christ, the world, they knew, had been for Mary an empty place. Even the Eucharistic Presence of her Son was no adequate substitute for His visible presence. She had been, since the Ascension, patiently waiting for her invitation to follow Him into His kingdom, as she had always patiently waited upon all His wishes. And though she had mothered His Apostles and embraced in a Mother’s tenderness all the world for which He had died, she was waiting eagerly and expectantly for death.


Now it came, not as the feared conqueror, but as the blessed liberator, and the Apostles were glad for her sake, even though their own loss was bitterly heavy. She died, and, dying, smiled into the eyes of her Son, come to take her safely through the gates of death into His living presence.

Among the Eastern peoples burial follows quickly upon death. So the Apostles, with loving, reverent, if reluctant hands, carried the body of Mary, fair even in death, to the tomb. Her lips still smiled with the final joy of anticipation that flooded her whole being as her soul left her body. Her hands were still clasped in her almost uninterrupted gesture of prayer.
They summoned her friends and relatives, drew the burial garments over her, and mourned and rejoiced. As evening came on, they carried her body to the cool, dark tomb, and, closing the grave, returned to her empty dwelling.

Undoubtedly, during that lovely burial, they remembered, abashed and ashamed, another burial in which they had not participated. She had often told them the details of that tragic procession from Calvary to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and shame had filled their hearts as they thought of the cowardice that had held them captive in dark corners and cellars, while the crucified Christ was borne to His borrowed grave by the hands of strangers.
Perhaps they felt that this reverent burial of His Mother was some slight atonement to Christ for their absence from His burial on Good Friday.


Characteristically, St. Thomas arrived a day late. Poor Thomas had a way of being absent when important things took place. Yet, hard as it was on him, his way of arriving after an event had happened was a blessed thing for posterity. Because he missed the first glad reunion of the Apostles with the risen Christ, he gave to our Faith one of its firmest arguments. First, he doubted that Christ had risen; then he laid down his own conditions on which he would accept the fact; and, finally, he carried out those conditions when his searching fingers touched the wounds of Christ, and his hand was laid in convincing proof upon the Saviour’s side. To Thomas we can be grateful for a kind of scientific sceptic’s proof of the Resurrection.
Again, he was late when Mary died. But, had he been present at the death and burial of Mary, we might never have known that Mary was assumed from the grave.

Deeply regretting that he had not seen Mary in the calm peace of death, he asked the other Apostles to return with him to the tomb and roll back the stone so that he could, for the last time on earth, see the face that was the maternal counterpart of the face of the Master he had followed in life and was tirelessly preaching in unresponsive India.


The Apostles, who were more than willing to see that sweet face again, led Thomas to the tomb. They rolled back the stone, entered the cool, dark doorway, and then stopped motionless. Perhaps they were really not surprised. Certainly they had no fear that her body was stolen. They must at once have recognised the singular appropriateness of the miracle that copied for the Mother the resurrection of her Son.

For the tomb was empty. Where her body had tested, full-blown flowers were blooming. Through the tomb blew not the slightest breath of death’s corruption. Instead, it was filled with the perfume of flowers, mingled with scents not of earth.

But the body of Mary was gone.


The Apostles needed no one to explain the miracle. The risen Christ had clearly lifted His Mother from the earth. At His command her soul had rejoined her body, and she was body and soul with her victorious Son in His eternal kingdom.

If the victory of death over the body of Christ was short, its victory over the body that had borne the body of Christ could not be of long duration. Mary had been assumed from earth to heaven.

They knelt, these Apostles, at the empty tomb. They lifted their eyes towards the heavens, which now contained Mother and Son, reunited in the completeness of their personalities. And, when they rose again to their feet, it was to return rejoicing to the Cenacle, happy in the honour that had been paid to Mary, glad that her body was a relic too pure to be housed even in the loftiest shrine of earth.

From that moment on, the Christian world never sought for the body of Mary. Christians knew that it was reunited with her immaculate soul, and that both were with God.