The Assumption | Mgr. Ronald Knox | From "Pastoral and Occasional Sermons" | August 15th | Ignatius InsightThe Assumption | Mgr. Ronald Knox | From Pastoral and Occasional Sermons | August 15th | Ignatius Insight

A cave Jeremias found there, in which he set down tabernacle and ark and incense-altar, and stopped up the entrance behind him. There were some that followed; no time they lost in coming up to mark the spot, but find it they could not.—2 Machabees 2:5-6.

After this, God's heavenly temple was thrown open, and the ark of the covenant was plain to view, standing in his temple.—Apocalypse 11:19.

The Son of God came to earth to turn our hearts away from earth, Godwards. The material world in which we live was, by his way of it, something immaterial; it didn't matter. We were not to be always worrying about our clothes being shabby, or wondering where our next meal was to come from; the God who fed the sparrows and clothed the lilies would see to all that. We were not to resent the injuries done to us by our neighbours; the aggressor was welcome to have a slap at the other cheek, and when he took away our greatcoat he was to find that we had left our coat inside it. Life itself, the life we know, was a thing of little value; it was a cheap bargain, if we lost life here to attaIn the life hereafter. There was a supernatural world, interpenetrating, at a higher level, the world of our experience; it has its own laws, the only rule we were to live by, its own prizes, which alone were worth the winning. All that he tried to teach us; and we, intent on our own petty squabbles, our sordid struggle for existence, cold-shouldered him at first, and then silenced his protest with a cross.

His answer was to rise from the dead; and then, for forty days in the world's history, that supernatural life which he had preached to us flourished and functioned under the conditions of earth. A privileged few saw, with mortal eyes, the comings and goings of immortality, touched with their hands the impalpable. For forty days; then, as if earth were too frail a vessel to contain the mystery, the tension was suddenly relaxed. He vanished behind a cloud; the door of the supernatural shut behind him, and we were left to the contemplation of this material world, drab and barren as ever.

What was the first thing the apostles saw when they returned from the mount of the Ascension to the upper room? "Together with Mary"—is it only an accident that the Mother of God is mentioned just here, by name, and nowhere else outside the gospels? The Incarnate Word had left us, as silently as he came to us, leaving no trace behind him of his passage through time. No trace? At least, in the person of his blessed Mother, he had bequeathed to us a keepsake, a memory. She was bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, the new Eve of the new Adam. That body of hers, still part of the material order of things, had housed and suckled God. As long as she lived, there would still be a link, a golden link, between this lower earth and Paradise. As long as she lived; and even if it was God's will that she, Eve's daughter, should undergo the death that was Eve's penalty, the penalty she had never incurred, her mortal remains would still be left with us, an echo from the past, an influence on our lives. We men, since we are body and soul, do honour even to the lifeless bodies which have housed the dead; Napoleon rests in the Invalides, Lenin at Moscow. The day would come when there would be pilgrimages from all over the world to the shrines of Peter and Paul at Rome, of James at Compostela. Was it not reasonable to hope that somewhere, at Jerusalem, perhaps, or at Ephesus, we should be privileged to venerate the mortal remains of her through whom salvation came to us? Or perhaps at Bethlehem, Bethlehem-Ephrata, this new Ark of God would rest, as the ark rested of old; "And now, at Ephrata, we have heard tidings of what we looked for" [1] —the old tag from the Psalms should still ring true.

God disposed otherwise. Jewish tradition recorded that when Jerusalem was destroyed by the armies of Babylon, the prophet Jeremias took the ark of God away from the city, and buried it in some secret cleft of the rock; it was never seen again. Never again, except by St John, in his vision on the isle of Patmos; he saw the ark of God, but in heaven. And so it was with this new Ark of God, the virgin body that had been his resting-place. When and where she passed away from this earth, or in what manner, nobody can tell us for certain. But we know where she is. When Elias was carried up into heaven, the sons of the prophets at Jericho asked Eliseus if they might go out in search of him; "it may be", they said, "the spirit of the Lord has carried him off and left him on some hill-top or in some cleft of the valleys." He consented grudgingly, and when they returned from their fruitless errand, greeted them with the words; "Did I not tell you not to send?" [2] So it is with the body of the blessed Virgin: nowhere in Christendom will you hear the rumour of it. So many churches, all over the world, eagerly claiming to possess the relics of this or that saint; who shall tell us whether John the Baptist sleeps at Amiens, or at Rome? But never of our Lady; and if any of us still hoped to find that inestimable treasure, the Holy Father has called off the search, only the other day. We know where her body is; it is in heaven.

Of course, we knew it all along. For myself, I have never doubted the doctrine of the Assumption since I heard it preached forty-four years ago, in an Anglican church over at Plymouth. You see, we get it all wrong about body and soul, simply because our minds are dominated by matter. We think it the most natural thing in the world that soul and body should be separated after death; that the body should remain on earth and the soul go to heaven, once it is purged and assoiled. But it isn't a natural thing at all; soul and body were made for one another, and the temporary divorce between them is something out of the way, something extraordinary, occasioned by the Fall. In our blessed Lady, not born under the star of that defeat, human nature was perfectly integrated; body and soul belonged to one another, as one day, please God, yours and mine will.

Long ago, in those fields of Bethlehem, Ruth had gleaned in the footsteps of her beloved; and he, secretly, had given charge to the reapers to drop handfuls of corn on purpose, so that she might fill her bosom the sooner. So he, whose reapers are the angels, would leave for his blessed Mother a special portion of those graces that were to enrich mankind. The child-bearing which brought, to us others, redemption from the fault of our first parents should bring, to her, exemption; the empty tomb, which assures us that our bodies will rise at the judgment, was for her the earnest of an immediate resurrection; Christ the first-fruits, and who should glean them, but she? For that, heaven is the richer, earth the poorer. We can go to Lourdes, and offer adoration in the place where her feet stood; we cannot press with our lips some precious reliquary containing the hand that swaddled Christ. In a world so dominated by matter, in which matter itself seems to carry the seeds of its own destruction, there is no material object left that can link our destinies with hers.

And yet, is the loss all loss? When the dogma of the Assumption was defined a friend of mine, a very intelligent Mohammedan, congratulated me on the gesture which the Holy Father had made; a gesture (said he) against materialism. And I think he was right. When our Lord took his blessed Mother, soul and body, into heaven, he did honour to the poor clay of which our human bodies are fashioned. It was the frrst step towards reconciling all things in heaven and earth to his eternal Father, towards making all things new. "The whole of nature", St Paul tells us, "groans in a common travail all the while. And not only do we see that, but we ourselves do the same; we ourselves although we have already begun to reap our spiritual harvest, groan in our hearts, waiting for that adoption which is the ransoming of our bodies from their slavery." [3] That transformation of our material bodies to which we look forward one day has been accomplished—we know it now for certain-in her.

When the Son of God came to earth, he came to turn our hearts away from earth, Godwards. And as the traveller, shading his eyes while he contemplates some long vista of scenery, searches about for a human figure that will give him the scale of those distant surroundings, so we, with dazzled eyes looking Godwards, identify and welcome one purely human figure close to his throne. One ship has rounded the headland, one destiny is achieved, one human perfection exists. And as we watch it, we see God clearer, see God greater, through this masterpiece of his dealings with mankind.

(A sermon broadcast from Buckfast Abbey, Devon, on the Feast of Our Lady Assumption, 15 August 1954.)


[1] Psalm 131:6.
[2] 4 Kings 2:16, 18.
[3] Romans 8:22-3.

Related Links: Author Page for Monsignor Ronald Knox
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Experience, Reason, and Authority in the Apologetics of Ronald Knox | Milton Walsh | From Ronald Knox As Apologist
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Review of The Belief of Catholics | Carl E. Olson
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Converts and Saints | An Interview with Joseph Pearce

Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was the son of the Anglican Bishop of Manchester and it appeared that he, being both spiritually perceptive and intellectually gifted, would also have a successful life as an Anglican prelate. But while in school in the early 1900s Knox began a long struggle between his love for the Church of England and his growing attraction to the Catholic Church. He converted to Catholicism at the age of twenty-nine, became a priest, and wrote numerous books on spiritual and literary topics, including The Belief of Catholics, Captive Flames: On Selected Saints and Christian Heroes, The Hidden Stream: The Mysteries of the Christian Faith, Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, and many more. Visit Knox's author page for more information about his life and work.

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