“God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living”… “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.” (Wis 1:13; 2:23)
Modern man views death as something natural. There are three reasons for this. First, common sense indicates that no one lives forever and that human persons become old and die. Second, science proves the cellular and physical breakdown of the body over time indicating that mortality is natural. Lastly, pagan thought, still prominent in man, proposes death and life as a cyclical process such that life and death appear to be the intended balance of Nature and sentient existence.
Not so for the Christian. While the Christian admits the scientific evidence of human physiology and aging, he does not believe that God intended the process of dying as part of the natural order. The Christian believes that death arises as a consequence of sin. Man, made for immortality, was originally placed in a world of preternatural perpetuity (i.e. Eden) gifted with the life-sustaining supernatural grace of God. But man fell into sin and with him fell the endurance of that gift. As St. Paul teaches, man’s mind was darkened (Rom 1:21) the world was lessened (Rom 8:19-20) and death entered into the world as punishment until such time that the full promise of redemption was to be fulfilled in Christ (Jn 3:16). This may appear an odd and outdated notion to our modern, scientific minds; yet what do we actually believe and hope for as Christians if not the passing away of the old world for a renewed and eternal sustenance founded on the everlasting grace of God (Rev 21:1-3;23).
Such reflection ought to enlist a deep consideration on the Virgin Mary. Our Blessed Mother transcended our fallen nature leading to her Assumption into heaven. True, Mary died a natural death, but the earth could not hold her; for she of all humans was not inclined to the grave.
Thus we place on our bulletin cover for this 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time a work by the Northern Renaissance painter, Petrus Christus, entitled The Death of the Virgin (1460). Here we see Mary surrounded by the Apostles as at Pentecost. One Apostle gives Mary a candle to light her way as she soon arises above her death bed lifted by angels and greeted by the awaiting Father in heaven (as seen just below the bed canopy). One Apostle sleeps as at Gethsemane; yet ever-diligent John (in green) sits alert by the bedside as he once stood by the Cross. Near him is another Apostle holding a thurible indicative of the beautiful fragrance – which is Mary – rising into heaven. Another enters with an aspergillum representative of Mary’s sanctity. Finally, another Apostle looks out a window symbolic of one searching for Mary’s departed body, while in the upper right of the scene Thomas receives from an angel the girdle of Mary as proof of her Assumption.
Just as the Ascension of Jesus is proof of our future glory, the Assumption of Mary is proof of our intended immortality now restored in her and through her Son’s victory over our fallen human nature – a nature created in the image of God.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services