Yesterday, Cynthia and I have celebrated the feast of The Assumption at the Cathedral. Quite honestly, the Cathedral is likely the most uncomfortable place in Singapore to attend a Mass. It is warm inside, even in the evening. The noise from the main streets surrounding the Cathedral can be distracting. So are the fans inside blowing at full blast. Part of the ceiling is falling apart. Paint work is coming out. In short, our Cathedral is in dire need of a major renovation, if not a rebuild.
But, if you are looking for an authentic experience, the Cathedral is the place to be. Part of the Mass is celebrated in Latin. The choir members dressed in robes, their singing may well rival the angels from Heaven. The priest, though old, is filled with spiritual energy. I sat my back straight throughout the sermon, absorbing each and every word the priest said. He often strikes me as someone who is so absolutely ready to embrace Heaven, in a mental and a spiritual sense. If you meet him on the street, he may look like a frail old man. But he has an amazing aura that touches people’s heart.
One story passed down by generations goes something like this. After Jesus has died and resurrected, his mother, Mary, has lived to the age of 65. Whether Mother Mary has died or has gone into a deep sleep – a debate we still have till today – she was buried inside the tomb of Jesus. Thomas, the disciple who was always late for everything arrived at the tomb one day late. When Thomas opened the tomb, lo and behold, Mother Mary’s body was no longer inside. It was then said that her body was taken to Heaven leaving nothing behind on Earth.
Now, that is just a story. A story shared by the Priest with repeated reminders that this story is not Gospel. It is not until November 1, 1950 when Pope Pius XII solemnly declared the following:
By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: 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.
As a dogma, we Catholics must believe that Mother Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven. But why is it so important to the Catholics where Mother Mary’s body and soul has disappeared to? To answer that, we have to go back to Garden of Eden.
In the beginning, God created Adam. Adam took a piece of his rib bone and created a woman. He named her Eve. Both Adam and Eve were having a great time in Garden of Eden, the paradise until the snake tempted Eve (and later on Adam) to eat the forbidden fruit that opened their eyes. God was angry. Adam and Eve were forever banished from the paradise. For dust you are and to dust you shall return, so said God. Just like that, they have lost their immortality. From Adam and Eve onward, we bore the Original Sin. Each of us die to our Original Sin. Generations by generations, until …
… Jesus Christ came and has freed us from sin by his ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. His resurrection has showed us that death can be conquered and those who follow Him will get to Heaven. All is well, but here is one question. If Jesus was born as a man, wouldn’t he too inherit the Original Sin from Mother Mary?
To tackle this question, we have to first look at where Jesus came from. Catholics believe in the Trinity aspect of Divinity. There are three aspects of Divinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To me, God the Father is not bounded by time or place, exists everywhere and throughout the scale of time. When God the Father sent his Son to us more than two thousand years ago, that aspect of Divinity was bounded by time and place. God made man – Jesus, his Son – lived with us and taught us love during His stay in flesh and blood before returning to Heaven. God was physically among us.
Now, since Jesus was born as a Divinity, at and from the time of His conception, Mother Mary must have been kept free of Original Sin. Because Jesus is without Sin (hence, the dogma of Immaculate Conception). Since Mother Mary was free of Original Sin, she must have triumphed over physical death.
But that is not enough. By Mother Mary’s actions as recorded in the Bible, we believe that she must have ascended to Heaven. Therefore, she must have triumphed over spiritual death too. What is spiritual death? It is things we do that forever deny us from entering Heaven. In another word, Mortal Sins.
Why does it matter to us that Mother Mary has assumed into Heaven, body and soul, and that she has triumphed over both physical and spiritual death?
It does. Mother Mary is our role model and if we keep our body and soul pure and follow the teachings of Jesus, we too may enter into Heaven when the time comes.
Below was the first reading during the Feast of the Assumption (Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10).
Then the sanctuary of God in heaven opened, and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it. Then came flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake and violent hail.
Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth.
Then a second sign appeared in the sky: there was a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and each of the seven heads crowned with a coronet. Its tail swept a third of the stars from the sky and hurled them to the ground, and the dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was at the point of giving birth, so that it could eat the child as soon as it was born.
The woman was delivered of a boy, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne, while the woman escaped into the desert, where God had prepared a place for her to be looked after for twelve hundred and sixty days.
Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Salvation and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the accuser, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down.
PS. I am not trained in theology. This blog entry is based on my personal view and understanding.