The tradition of the Assumption of Mary dates back to the very earliest days of the Church, all the way back to the days of the apostles. 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.”
And so we have gathered here this morning to celebrate the life of Mary, Mother of God, the first of the disciples of Jesus her son. And there is plenty to celebrate in her life. We who would be Jesus’ disciples too, can learn much from the way she lived her discipleship. We can see in her life, I think, at least three qualities of discipleship. The first is joy. She is one who not only allowed something incredibly unbelievable to be done in her, but allowed it with great joy. That she did this with joy tells us something very important about who she was. Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” Those who live with joy, true joy, do so because God is at work in them and God is at work through them. Mary knew this from the moment the angel came to her.
The second quality we see in Mary’s prayer is humility. She knew this wasn’t about her; this was about what God was doing in her and through her. It wasn’t she that did great things, no, “the Almighty has done great things for me,” she tells us, “and holy is his Name!” The third quality is faith: 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. Indeed without Mary’s fiat, her great leap of faith, the salvation of humanity may have gone quite poorly.
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. And that is good news for us who have difficult lives or find 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.
Mary’s life was a prophecy for us. Like Mary, we are called to a specific vocation to do God’s work in the world. We too are called to make sacrifices so that God’s work can be accomplished in us and through us. We too can be joyful because God is at work in us. We too are called to humility that lets God’s love for humanity shine through our lives. We too are called to lives of faith that translate into action on behalf of others, a faith that leads God’s people to salvation. And we too, one day, will share in the glory that Mary has already received in the kingdom of God.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.