There is no Scripture story telling us about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast is based on a strong Tradition that developed in the early Church and has been venerated ever since. Remember that we Catholics believe that Tradition which has come from the early Church is as much a Revelation of God’s word as Scripture itself.
In the early Church, it was known that Mary had “fallen asleep” and that there is a “Tomb of Mary” close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 tells us that, after Mary’s death, the apostles opened the tomb, finding it empty, and concluded that she had been taken bodily into heaven. The tradition was spoken about by the various fathers of the Church, and in the eighth century, St. John Damascene wrote, “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay. . . . You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.” The current celebration of Mary’s Assumption has taken place since 1950, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus, saying: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.”
Mary’s cousin Elizabeth tells us in today’s Gospel reading why this feast is celebrated: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb… Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary was a young girl with all the concerns of a young girl in that time and place. She was as yet unmarried, yet faithfully embraced God’s call, strange and unfathomable though it must have been to her. Mary’s simple faith allowed her to say “yes” to God’s will and made possible the salvation of the world.
Because of that faith, she had a bond with our Savior beyond anything we could ever hope for. And so we truly believe that Jesus, risen from the dead and now ascended into heaven, prepared a place for his mother and caught her back up into his life. She was assumed body and soul into heaven, and death was not allowed to touch the one whose purity made possible the birth of the Savior. As St. John Damascene also said, “It was necessary that she who had preserved her virginity inviolate in childbirth should also have her body kept free from all corruption after death.”
What is important for us to see in this feast, though, is that it proclaims with all the joy the Church can muster that what happened to Mary can and will happen for us who believe. We too have the promise of eternal life in heaven, where death and sin and pain will no longer have power over us. Because Christ caught his Blessed Mother back up into his life in heaven, we know that we too can be caught up with his life in heaven. On that great day, death, the last enemy, will be completely destroyed, as St. Paul tells us today.
Mary’s life wasn’t always easy, but Mary’s life was redeemed. That is good news for us who have difficult lives or fine it hard to live our faith. Because there are those among us too who have unplanned pregnancies. There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger. There are those among us who have to watch a child die. But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.
As I’ve reflected on this feast today, what kept coming to me was the fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” Jesus showed us the way to do that by honoring his own mother with grace that she would never know death. We might not be able to do that, but we can certainly call our mother, or for those whose mothers have passed, pray for her. And may we all find in Mary our Mother the example of faith that will lead us to everlasting communion with her Son. May we sing with Mary the great song of the Church:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.”