Nine days ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration, which showed us the glory of God shining on the face of Christ and reminded us of our ultimate destiny, which is to share in that same glory (cf. 2 Cor 4:6). Today, the whole Church rejoices and praises God with another feast of glory. He has made Mary – the first of the redeemed, his perfect servant, and the mother of his Son – the first to participate fully in his glory. We can consider Mary’s Assumption into Heaven as a kind of fulfillment of the beautiful words of commendation found in the parable of the talents, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…. Come, share your Master’s joy!” (Mt 25:21).
The solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary can be best understood from within the context of the entire mystery of our salvation in Jesus Christ. We have a summary of the essential message in today’s second reading. St. Paul writes that Christ’s Death and Resurrection are the key to the establishment of his reign. Christ is the first to rise from the dead, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” but his victory is meant to be shared with us all, “each one in proper order.” Mary is foremost in the “proper order” established by her Son.
When he came among us as a man, Christ was born of a human mother. Mary was prepared ahead of time for his coming, being preserved from all sin. She was the first to know him, to believe in him, to trust in him. She committed herself entirely to the life of the Word made flesh. When Jesus traced out for us the way of salvation, following the will of the Father perfectly, to the point of death on the Cross, Mary was his first and most faithful follower. She was there at the Cross, where she saw her Son give up his last breath. The sword of sorrow, prophesied by Simeon, really pierced her heart (cf. Lk 2:35). When Jesus rose in glory on the third day, he opened the way for all of us to enter into the glory of Heaven. Who else would be the first to join him in glory than his own mother? It is her triumph in glory that we celebrate today as we await our own. It has pleased God to raise the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, to the glory of Heaven. This is the dogma of the Assumption!
No Christian doubts that Mary went to Heaven. The puzzling part for some people is our belief that she was taken into Heaven in her body. Sometimes they question the origins of this teaching. In particular, they want to know where the Bible says that Mary was taken to Heaven body and soul. The problem with this approach is that it implies that we can only believe what is explicitly written in the Bible. As Catholics, we do not limit ourselves to the Bible alone (sola scriptura), for we believe that the fullness of revelation is passed on to us in two modes, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the written word of God and the unwritten word of God.
The Bible does not give detailed accounts of everything concerning everybody who has a special role in the plan of God. Hence, it does not set forth for us many details about the Mother of God. It does not say anything about her birth, her childhood, or her death. Our understanding of Mary’s special privileges and her mission in the Church comes to us through the Church’s living Tradition. It is in light of the Tradition that we ponder the Scripture readings chosen for today’s feast.
It is fitting that today we turn to St. John’s vision of the “woman clothed with the sun.” This is not an apparition of Mary like at Guadalupe or Lourdes. Rather it is a “great sign,” representing the Church, which in every age struggles to bring the message of the Gospel into the world while facing the fierce opposition of Satan, the “huge red dragon.” This heavenly Woman is also a sign of Mary, already shining in the glory of Heaven. The dragon represents the menacing power of evil, which at times looks certain to devour us. We can feel like a helpless child before the terrifying forces that dominate much of the world. However, the Woman is not overcome by the power of evil and neither is her royal Son. We learn from this that we who are the spiritual children of Mary can withstand the dragon as well, with the help of her powerful intercession. Certainly the battle continues in our daily lives, but through the immense power of God, and our surrender to him, we can overcome the monster and be rescued, “caught up to God and his throne,” to join with Mary and all the saints in the place of protection and love prepared for us by God. Because of Mary’s faithful obedience, God has come to reign among us, and all of Heaven and earth can rejoice: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed One.”
Mary is still proclaiming the greatness of the Lord, still rejoicing in the great things he has done for her. What she said at the moment of her visitation to Elizabeth is part of our prayer today. Her hymn, the Magnificat, gives all glory to God, while celebrating his preference for the poor and lowly. When Mary says that God “has lifted up the lowly,” she is not thinking of her future assumption into Heaven, although it certainly applies to her more than to anyone else. Probably she is simply in wonder that God has chosen her at all, his “lowly servant.” She is also rejoicing that Elizabeth is blessed with the gift of new life in her womb.
Mary in Heaven continues to do for us what she did for her cousin in the hill country of Judah: she brings Jesus to us, opens the way for us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, teaches us to be the Lord’s lowly servants, and urges us to find joy in the Lord. The secret to this joy, and to participating in the glory of Heaven, is to be like Mary, a lowly and faithful servant of the Lord.
What sustains me to rid myself of the burden of sin and to persevere in running the race? How do I personally identify with the feast of the Assumption in my life? How has the Magnificat deepened my devotion to Mary?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.