The meaning of the Assumption, as Pope Pius XII in 1950 declared for all the Church, is “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.”
For us, the end of life here is the shattering of this unity and the decay of the grave. But not for Mary. God would not allow her, the Mother of His Son, to see the corruption of the tomb, since she gave life to Life Himself.
And that’s unquestionably wonderful. And we rejoice for Mary, who already possesses this grace, which, after the General Resurrection, will be the state of all the Blessed in Heaven. But why is this so important that the Church needed an infallibly-declared dogma and a Holy Day of Obligation to celebrate this truth, which, to some, might seem like theological hair-splitting?
Let’s go back to Pope Pius XII. As he lists the reasons for the solemn promulgation of the Assumption, he says that it is also “for the joy and exultation of the entire Church” that he declares this dogma.
Now, if you don’t know where you’re going, you will have a very hard, if not impossible, time getting there; if you don’t know what the goal looks like, you might not recognize it, or confuse some other goal for the real one. And if you don’t know who you really are, very little in life will make sense.
This great feast of Our Lady is not really for Our Lady – she doesn’t really need it, living fully, body and soul, in the bliss of Heaven. And like the loving Mother she is, she wants to keep nothing for herself but share it all with her children. This Feast is for us – for the joy of the Church! – because it shows us where we are going and who we really are.
The dignity of the Immaculate Conception is uniquely Mary’s; but the dignity of living body and soul with God, which the Assumption foreshadows, that can be ours. That is, in fact, the great promise Christ offers us; and Mary shows the fulfillment of this promise to us in her Assumption. The intimacy, the perfection, the wholeness of life in Heaven (about which we think too seldom, I fear) is offered to us. This is where we are going, and seeing someone who has already made it, one of us, our own Sister (first and foremost) who is fully tasting the victory – that cheers us on. We rejoice – and are heartened – to see that it is possible to attain to this great glory. She is, as today’s Preface declares, “the beginning and image of the Church’s perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort” to us on our way.
Our Lady’s greatest joy, Saint Augustine tells us, lies not in her honors or dignities, not in the Immaculate Conception nor even in being the Mother of God, but rather in being a disciple of her Son! “Blessed” says the Lord in the Gospel for the Vigil for this Feast “are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
No one has done that more perfectly than Mary. But with her help and emboldened by her example and invigorated by the knowledge of what is possible for us, the poor banished children of Eve who are now the children of Mary, we can do the same!
Prepared for Aleteia by the Canonry of Saint Leopold. Click here to learn more about the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.