Even though it was not obligatory to attend Mass this year, Saturday was the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. This feast celebrates Mary’s entrance, body and soul, into heaven. As the first of her Son’s disciples, she is the first to share fully in his Resurrection. Mary’s destiny reminds us that one day our bodies are also destined for eternal glory.
Unlike other religious traditions that view the body as something we leave behind forever in death, Christianity holds that our bodies are an essential part of who we are as human beings. Our mortal bodies have a dignity comparable to the dignity of our immortal soul because God himself has chosen to assume a body in the person of Jesus Christ. Our conviction of the sacredness of the human body reflects the goodness of creation itself. The material world is not something “evil” to be avoided, but a good to be enjoyed according to God’s plan.
This is why morality becomes an important feature of Christianity, including sexual ethics. As St. Paul tells us, not only do our bodies bear the goodness of creation, as Christians our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Paul says, we are to “glorify God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:20.) How we care for our bodies and how we use our bodies is meant always to “glorify God.” It means leading a healthy, chaste life. It means caring also for the physical welfare of others: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, etc. It means that our bodies are not something disposable nor something we can freely change at will. Our body, including our gender, is a given part of who we are.
The sacredness of our bodies is also revealed in the very sacraments we celebrate. God comes to us in very physical ways: washing (baptism), anointing with oil (confirmation), food and drink (Eucharist). Even the bodily union of husband and wife in marriage is holy – a sacrament of God’s love. In the liturgy we use our bodies to worship God, along with our mind and voice: standing, kneeling, signing with the cross, striking our breast, bowing, etc. It’s also why the Church treats the bodies of the dead with such great reverence, preferring bodily burial over cremation. Again, our body is who we are. We are not simply a mind or spirit. We are a unity of body and soul.
Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven reminds us this important truth we profess every week in the creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” The Apostle’s Creed is even more explicit: “the resurrection of the body.” This week in the gospel Jesus tells us that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” Again, the physical reality of Jesus’ promise was – and continues to be – a scandal to those who fail to recognize the goodness of flesh and blood. As you receive the Lord’s Body and Blood this weekend, give thanks that your flesh is destined to rise on the last day!