The First Lady Into Space

Ladies and gentlemen, let all the Earth rejoice, for on this day we remember a historic moment that has profound implications for the entire human race. As we gather together today, we call to mind a very special lady, a woman who made history and expanded the borders of the human frontier.

No, I am not talking about Valentina Tereshkova, although the world does right to remember her accomplishments.

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. Sorry, America, she was definitely Russian.

No, the woman I am speaking of didn’t even need a helmet:

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by El Greco, 1577

Yes, I am speaking of The Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven.

The Early Pioneers

Many Protestant and Evangelical Christians are puzzled by the Catholic doctrine of the Assumption. Their initial reaction is usually “where is THAT in the Bible?” Of course, this question doesn’t necessarily hold much weight for Catholics and Orthodox because we see Scripture as having the first say but not the last word. Nevertheless, while the Assumption of Mary isn’t in Scripture, there is precedent for humans flying off into space.

The first case of assumption is right at the beginning of the Bible, with Saint Enoch.

Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:24).

Enoch’s small Biblical acknowledgment is almost nothing, but it is the tip of a whole gigantasmic iceberg of apocrypha. Fascinated by this cryptic passage, several generations of Jewish writers between 300 BC and the time of Christ composed the Book of Enoch. The book is sort of like Bible fan fiction. It features the fall of the angels from grace and how they had intercourse with women who gave birth to giant demon-men who taught humans the dark arts of astrology and cosmetics (yes, as in the art of applying lipstick). Then Enoch is given a casual tour of heaven.

Apparently St. Jude was a fan, because he quotes the Book of Enoch in his epistle:

Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him (Jude 1:14-15).

The Ethiopian Orthodox actually include the Book of Enoch in their Bible. The Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholics don’t consider it canonical, but they celebrate Enoch’s feast day on July 26. Roman Catholics don’t have a feast day for him, but if the Armenian Catholics get to call him a saint, I figure I can too.

The second sacred cosmonaut is none other than Elijah.

You all know Elijah. He’s the guy with the pimped-out chariot and the charism of calling-down-fire-upon-whom-he-pleases.

So here’s the logic: if God honored this measly prophet with a fiery limousine ride to heaven (okay, granted: Elijah was the single most B.A. person in the Old Testament, but still), it only makes sense that He would roll out an even awesomer red carpet for his mama.

“Our Life, Our Sweetness, and our Hope?” 

Still, it seems silly that the Church would make such a big deal of the Assumption. Why is it considered dogma – as in, you have to believe in it to be Catholic? The Eastern Orthodox churches also believe that Mary’s body was taken into heaven (they call it the Dormition), but they don’t have the audacity, the rashness to proclaim it dogma. What were we thinking!?

I think the Church makes such a big deal of the Assumption because of what implications it has for our lives. The mysteries of Jesus – the Incarnation, Birth, Death, and Resurrection – are the story of our Savior saving us. The mysteries of Mary – the Immaculate Conception, Assumption, and Crowning as Queen of Heaven – are the story of us being saved. Christ is the Savior, both Divine and human. Mary is the Saved, only human. Like us, she is the recipient of Christ’s gift of redemption. When we believe in the mysteries of Mary, we are having Faith in the Hope of God’s Love for mankind. Mary’s destiny is so important to us because it is a foretaste of our destiny as sons and daughters of God. The Assumption is a sign to us that just as God had a special place in heaven for our mama, a place made for her since the dawn of time, so too does he have a place for us.

In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:2).

Happy feast day!

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