What will happen to us at the end of time and what will the Church become after her mission on earth? The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary provides an answer to these questions. Mary is a prime image of the Church. She gave birth to the infant Jesus, nurtured him to adulthood, and accompanied him to the Cross. The Church has a similar relationship with Christ as she continually brings him to the world through her apostolic works, and especially through the spiritual birth of more Christians in baptism. And through her catechetical and sacramental economies, the Church cares for and accompanies her members as they grow to maturity and carry out their missions.
The dogma of the Assumption was solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1950, affirming an article of faith held by the Church over the centuries 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.” Several reasons necessitated this unique divine action and one of them is the point made by St. Alphonsus Liguori that Jesus did not wish to see the body of Mary suffer corruption after death, because, “it would have redounded to his own dishonour to have her virginal flesh, from which he himself had assumed flesh, reduced to dust.”
The Assumption highlights Mary’s role in salvation history. By God’s special decree, she was conceived without sin and chosen to be the mother of Christ the Redeemer. She then lived a perfectly holy life so much that God blessed her with a glorified body which was then taken up to heaven. Consequently, Mary is not only our model of holiness but also an image of the perfection which awaits us at the end of time. The II Vatican Council said that by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity, Mary co-operated in the Incarnation which paved the way for the divinization of man, and this makes her the mother of humanity in the order of grace.
The Feast of Assumption is a celebration of our ultimate aspiration as Christians. It is a foretaste of our pilgrimage to heaven, but also a reminder of our task to walk in the footsteps of the Blessed Virgin to achieve the glorification of our own bodies. Mary’s assumption is unique because there are many other souls in heaven – the martyrs and other saints, but they do not have their bodies with them. This is because their bodies have suffered decay or are still preserved on earth until the Last Day when Jesus will raise all the dead for the Final Judgment. The righteous will then be ushered into the glory of heaven – body and soul, while the wicked will face the eternal separation of hell.
Our faith assured us that as God assumed Mary into heaven at the end of her earthly mission, so will he lift the whole Church into perfect communion with himself in heaven at the end of history. Mary’s Assumption is God’s promise to us. Every Christian who follows Mary’s path of humility, faith, and obedience can look forward to following her into the glorified existence of heaven. This is one of the reasons God decided to share his mother with us. In celebrating the Assumption of Mary, the Holy Church celebrates a glorious example of what it means to be redeemed even as she contemplates the beatific vision that is to come. According to Vatican II: “Mary is admired and exalted because she is the first of the redeemed.”
Many non-Catholics do not pay much attention to the Blessed Virgin but we Catholics recognize her as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. We know that Jesus took her up to heaven, body and soul, at the end of her earthly pilgrimage. It makes sense that the one who bore God in her womb should be borne by God into heaven, and not left to rot in the grave. In the Old Testament, the Queen of the Kingdom of Israel was always the Queen Mother. One of the first things Solomon did as King was to raise his mother Bathsheba to his side, as the royal Queen. There was a practical reason for this tradition: The king used to marry more than one wife, but he had only one Mother, so she became Queen.
But there was also a deeper, prophetic meaning at work. God was already planning to send the Messiah through a woman, to involve a woman in the Redemption, just as a mother (Eve) was involved in the Fall. Jesus gave his mother a special place in the economy of salvation, to remind us of his profound love for us. As the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer for the Assumption says: “Today the virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way.” Why is it a sign of hope and comfort? Because the earth is not heaven. Life on earth is full of doubts, difficulties, suffering, and pain. Our efforts to follow Christ face obstacle after obstacle. We do not understand why God does not take away all the obstacles. We see no end in sight for all the frustration, and we cannot see the way out either.
Dear friends, our faith in Christ will not take away the cross. It did not take away the cross from Mary’s life. It did not take away the cross from the lives of the saints. But it shows us that the first Christian, the mother of all Christians, was taken up into heaven at the end of her earthly journey. When we lift our gaze to her, standing at the right hand of our Lord, as the Psalm tells us, we gain the assurance that our God is faithful. If we stay true to him, he will be true to us. Accordingly, let Mary’s Assumption give us comfort and hope as we stumble through life’s hardships, enabling us to persevere through our trials, as she did, and to rejoice in the Lord even while the world gives us trouble. And let us pray today: Mary assumed into heaven – pray for us!