One of the most important things we can know about the Blessed Virgin Mary is summed up in the simple statement: “As Mary goes, so goes the Church.” Mary is the Mother of the Church, and so, through her intercession, we hope to follow the path she followed. We certainly celebrate and hope to emulate her faith; that faith that allowed her to be God’s instrument in bringing salvation to the whole world. One simple “yes,” one fiat forever changed the world and the destiny of all people. We also celebrate and choose to emulate her discipleship; that dedication to Christ that went beyond merely being his mother and encompassed being one who “hears the word of God and observes it” as Jesus extols in today’s Gospel reading. And finally, we hope to share the heavenly glory that she enjoys even now, even though our sinfulness will not keep us from tasting death in the process.
Today we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Assumption is an event for which we have no Scriptural reference. Instead, the doctrine of the Assumption is born out of the enduring Tradition of the Church, beginning in the early Church, encompassing the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, and culminating in the doctrinal declaration of Venerable Pope Pius XII. We know, by the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born without taint of sin. Today’s second reading reminds us that the sting of sin is death, and so it follows then that Mary would not undergo the corruption of bodily decay.
In the early Church, it was known that Mary had “fallen asleep” and there is a “Tomb of Mary” close toMountZion, 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: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
We know that Mary’s life was not an easy one, and that makes her faith all the more beautiful. The grace she received in the Immaculate Conception allowed her to be a model for all of us and for the Church. The fruit of her grace began to unfold with the Annunciation: when the angel Gabriel brought her God’s call to be the Mother of God. 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 the corruption of 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 will completely lose its nasty sting, asSt. Paultells 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 find it hard to live our faith. 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 aren’t able to do that, of course, but we can certainly call our mother or spend time with her, 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.
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God:
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.