TO JESUS THROUGH MARY
With great joy we celebrate the solemn feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. It is not only a glorious mystery of Mary’s life but a significant truth of our Catholic faith. In a basic way what we celebrate is the birthday of Our Lady, not her temporal birth, which we will celebrate on September 8th but her glorious birth into heaven, into the fullness of sharing in the very life of the Trinity.
The Church, as you know, in celebrating her great saints recalls and honors them as much as possible on the day of their death, on the day of their passage from this life into the life of perfect communion with God. In a similar manner we honor and celebrate on this day the transition and passage of Mary, the greatest of the saints, from her life her on earth to her glorious life in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
This great mystery and truth of Our Lady was solemnly defined on November 1st some sixty years ago, on All Saints’ Day in 1950. Pius XII, after consulting all the bishops of the world and numerous theologians and laity solemnly announced in his apostolic constitution: “We pronounce, declare, and define the dogma that the Immaculate Mother of God, the Ever-Virgin Mary, was on the completion of her earthly life assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven.”
In my reflection today I would like to reflect with you on three questions regarding Mary’s Assumption:
First, what is the theological meaning of the Assumption;
Secondly, what can be said concerning the death of Our Lady; and,
Finally, what is the meaning and significance of the Assumption as it applies to our daily Christian lives?
Let us begin, then, with our first question: what is the theological meaning of Mary’s Assumption? Although I have already indicated this in a basic way, it is helpful to reflect on it more thoroughly. First of all, Mary’s Assumption signifies the important truth that she participates in the supreme gift of the beatific vision; in the words of St. Paul she no longer sees or knows God indistinctly as in a mirror but rather face to face. She no longer knows God partially but fully. As wonderful and extraordinary as the experience and knowledge Our Lady had of God in this life, her ability to know the Lord, to contemplate his beauty and to gaze upon the infinite glory of the Trinity was radically transformed in heaven.
Given the utter depth of Mary’s faith, given her total openness and receptivity to the Spirit within her, given her profound experience of God’s reality and presence shining through the face and life of Jesus, Mary clearly even in this life experienced and knew God in a manner that was special and unique. And yet Mary, the saint of saints, could not know and grasp the glory and beauty of God directly as the angels and heavenly spirits. With her entrance into heaven and the transformation of her being into the divine glory, however, she knows, appreciates and loves God beyond all human reckoning. Moreover, in accord with the depth of her new sharing in the divine life and love she is able to share in a joyous friendship and communion with the divine persons in a way that surpasses all the heavenly choirs. Mary’s Assumption into heaven, however, is not limited to the wondrous sharing of her mind, heart, and soul in the divine life and glory; it includes her body and corporeal dimension.
As the apostolic constitution clearly states: “the Immaculate Mother of God was assumed soul and body into the glory of heaven.” In anticipation of the general resurrection at the end of human history and as a unique exception to it, Our Lady already shares fully in her son’s resurrection such that her risen and glorious body, like her son’s is immortal, incorruptible, and not bound by the limitations of time and space as mortal bodies are.
At this point let us turn to the question of Our Lady’s death in the context of her Assumption. Did Mary undergo death or not? On first hearing this may seem to be an odd question. Without pondering the issue we might be tempted to respond simply: Of course, Mary died. She was truly human like all of us; and, since human beings are subject to death, there is no doubt she also died. This question, however, is not as simple and stupid as it might seem; theologians have pondered it through the ages. On the one hand death is a punishment for and consequence of sin. Since Our Lady was sinless and filled with divine grace, she wasn’t a suitable subject of death.
It is instructive also to note that the Eastern Church speaks of the Dormition of Mary, a word that refers to her death as a falling asleep. On the other hand, since Jesus, the all-holy one, took our death upon himself, it seems appropriate that Mary, who shared so deeply in the life and mission of her son, would have suffered death also. Interestingly, the Church has never officially decided this question. Recall the instructive words of Pius XII in his apostolic constitution: “on the completion of her earthly life the Ever Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven.” The Holy Father bypassed the question of her death. The problem is in part one of defining the nature of death. Our Lady’s departure from this life was certainly unique. Mary’s body like the body of Jesus did not undergo corruption. Moreover, we can safely say, I think, the completion of Mary’s human life was an event filled with great peace and joy. Having shared so painfully and sorrowfully in her son’s agonizing death on the Cross, Mary’s dying and death, strongly suggest, were most gracious and glorious. I leave the question of Mary’s death and its resolution to your prayerful reflection.
In conclusion, what is the meaning and significance of Mary’s Assumption as it applies to our daily lives as Christians? Firstly, the Assumption is a wonderful sign and foreshadowing of our ultimate destiny as faithful disciples of Jesus and members of his body. Each of us, if we remain faithful, will one day share fully in the glory and life of God both in body and soul. Secondly, Our Lady’s Assumption is an encouraging reminder about the meaning of death in a positive context. In God’s plan and providence death is not a final destruction of our lives but an opening and transition to the fullness of life in God. Finally, Mary’s Assumption is not a mystery which signifies a separation and distancing of our spiritual mother from us. Rather in her Assumption she becomes more present to our lives and more able to help and bless us.
As Pope Francis states: “Precisely because Mary is with God and in God, she is very close to each one of us. While she lived on earth she could only be close to a few people. Being in God, who is actively within all of us, Mary shares in the closeness of God (to us).” What a joy it is to celebrate the great feast of Mary’s Assumption today. Let us continue to celebrate it during the coming days.
“Mary, give me your Heart: so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate; your Heart so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life and love Him as you love Him and serve Him in
the distressing guise of the poor.”
—Blessed Mother Teresa
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.