During the past week I have celebrated four funeral/memorial Masses. Death is something right in front of me on a regular basis. It makes me think so often about the brevity of life here on earth. Even if we were to live a hundred years or more, what is this brief time compared to eternity? I often say that life here on earth is like a blink of an eye compared to eternal life with God.
Human beings usually have many questions at the time of the death of a relative, friend or loved one. Is there a God? What is God like? Is there such a place as heaven or hell? Where is he/she now? Where will I wind up someday?
I take great consolation in the words from Preface I (of the Eucharistic Prayer) for the Dead: Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended . . . . We believe life in heaven with God is without sickness, death, pain or suffering. It is lived in the presence of the Communion of Saints, those people who have gone before us and who were found worthy to enter the presence of God.
This week we celebrated the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (August 15). The Catholic Church teaches that when her earthly life was complete, Mary was taken up body and soul into Heaven. She is in Heaven with the angels and saints able to pray for us and to intercede for us, her spiritual children. It makes logical sense that she who was protected from original sin by God from the time of her conception (the Immaculate Conception) and who lived a life of willing acceptance of God’s will— “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) –should now be in Heaven.
As a point of clarification, the Blessed Virgin Mary receives special honor/veneration that the church refers to (in Latin) as hyperdulia. She is the highest of all the saints and angels who also deserve praise and honor that the Church refers to as dulia. God alone deserves worship or adoration (latria). If anyone ever questions us as Catholics inquiring why we worship Mary or the saints, the simple truth is that we do not. As part of the Mystical Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints, they deserve honor, but not worship which is solely reserved to God.
In addition, sometimes people confuse the Assumption (of Mary) with the Ascension (of Jesus). We believe that both are in Heaven, but Mary was taken up into Heaven while Jesus, as the all-powerful Son of God, had everything that He needed within His power to return back to Heaven to join His Father and the Holy Spirit when He chose to do so.
Mary and all of the saints in Heaven give us something to which we can all aspire. I hope that we all want to be with God in Heaven for all eternity. However, most of us are probably not expecting to go right at this moment—but we should always be prepared. No one but God alone knows the day or the hour. (See Mt. 24: 36)
Fr. Ed Namiotka