Solemnity: Liturgical Color: White
The end of a story illuminates all that precedes it; God wants Mary for Himself
Today’s Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven commemorates, liturgically, a dogma. Catholicism celebrates her dogmas like a country celebrates its independence or a crucial victory in battle. The Church processes up and down city streets for the Body and Blood of Christ; she builds creches and composes Christmas carols for the dogma of the Incarnation at Christmas; she names cities, such as Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, after dogmas like today’s Feast. The Church, a sacramental family, celebrates her deeply held, specifically defined beliefs, or dogmas, in concrete, visible ways. So we strew flowers, sing songs, walk on pilgrimage, construct shrines, and kneel in prayer for our dearest truths. Tradition in the Church is not a locked chest. It is a living, present, and vital force, like the rushing wind, that purifies and is purified, that is ever young and ever ancient, that informs all that the Church holds and does.
The Assumption of Mary into heaven is a logical consequence of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Because Mary was born without original sin, she did not have to suffer the consequences of it, among them death. Since her body was a kind of ark of the New Covenant, carrying the Church in the person of Christ, God preserved her free from sin and wanted her in His presence in heaven when her time on earth ceased. No saint has ever enjoyed such a privilege, because no saint ever had the relationship with Christ that Mary enjoyed. A pious tradition says that the choirs of angels in heaven whispered to each other in jealousy when Mary was assumed into God’s presence: “Who is this woman treated with such unique respect and honor?”
Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the beauty and majesty of a massive landscape if there is no person in view to give it scale. How high is that waterfall? How tall that mountain peak? How far that shore? Put a person in the field of vision and everything suddenly makes sense. God fills every scene with his majesty. But Mary gives lovers of God perspective. She provides scale and humanizes the view. Mary is always there in the foreground, showing the faithful how to approach God and render Him due honor.
Devotion to the Virgin Mary is not just a more intense version of devotion to a saint. It is more than that. True devotion to Mary is on a higher plane of spirituality, something cradle Catholics know instinctively, even if they cannot explain it. With Mary as our mother, the Church and her doctrines are vivified. They seem to matter more. The Church is closer to us and we to her. “Marian spirituality” is more than religious wisdom in the Eastern tradition. It is more than acknowledging that Jesus Christ came from someone and somewhere. To be “Marian” is to know why God would want her assumed into heaven, body intact. To be “Marian” is to understand that no one asks about a baby without asking about its mother in the very same breath. Mary is the first Christian. She was, for years, the only Christian and thus the entire Church.
The dogma of the Assumption, like all dogmas, is not limiting but liberating. Borders make one go deeper. Irrigation channels bring the water where it needs to go, and a harvest comes soon enough. “No” can lead to new discoveries as much as “Yes.” Good theology inevitably leads to deeper spirituality. We need sound mysteries of faith to contemplate, to consider, and to commemorate. Without them, we focus too much on ourselves and we become the mystery of faith, rather than God. Profound dogmas of faith such as the Assumption of Mary walk hand in hand with a vibrant spiritually. Mary’s Assumption into heaven opens new horizons to the mind and imagination in prayer, and a holy desire to discover more in the life to come.
Saint Mary assumed into heaven, may your life with God, body and soul, be our goal. May we see your quiet devotion to God and the Church as an example to be followed, a target to be aimed at, and a destiny that awaits the serious Christian who emulates your subtle virtues.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
IN this festival the Church commemorates the happy departure from life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her translation into the kingdom of her Son, in which she received from Him a crown of immortal glory, and a throne above all the other Saints and heavenly spirits. After Christ, as the triumphant Conqueror of death and hell, ascended into heaven, His blessed Mother remained at Jerusalem, persevering in prayer with the disciples, till, with them, she had received the Holy Ghost. She lived to a very advanced age, but finally paid the common debt of nature, none among the children of Adam being exempt from that rigorous law. But the death of the Saints is rather to be called a sweet sleep than death; much more that of the Queen of Saints, who had been exempt from all sin. It is a traditionary pious belief, that the body of the Blessed Virgin was raised by God soon after her death, and taken up to glory, by a singular privilege, before the general resurrection of the dead. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the greatest of all the festivals which the Church celebrates in her honor. It is the consummation of all the other great mysteries by which her life was rendered most wonderful; it is the birthday of her true greatness and glory, and the crowning of all the virtues of her whole life, which we admire single in her other festivals.
Reflection.—Whilst we contemplate, in profound sentiments of veneration, astonishment, and praise, the glory to which Mary is raised by her triumph on this day, we ought, for our own advantage, to consider by what means she arrived at this sublime degree of honor and happiness, that we may walk in her steps. No other way is open to us. The same path which conducted her to glory will also lead us thither; we shall be partners in her reward if we copy her virtues.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.