Growing up in a parish dedicated to St. Mary of the Assumption, with so many stained glass windows, statues, songs and prayers dedicated to events in the life of the mother of Jesus, I think I suffered from “hypermarianosis” (an undocumented, but sincerely felt, overdose of Marian iconography and devotion in Catholic churches). Because of this, in part, as I grew in my interest and personal responsibility for my faith, I didn’t delve deeply into the relevance of Mary to the central tenets of my faith. I often overlooked the clarifying light her person offers for comprehending my relationship with Christ. However, I take solace in the fact that in the cases of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption, it took the Catholic Church quite a long time as well to formally articulate certain Marian dogmas and their essential importance to Catholic Christian faith. Now, many years later, I’ve found myself ready to revisit my mother and sister in faith to appreciate the wisdom she imparts to the Church in her exemplary life and relationship with her son.
Pope Pius XII solemnly declared in the apostolic letter Munificentissimus Deus on November 1, 1950:
“… 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.”
There is no direct scriptural support for this tenet of faith, but the tradition of the Church for centuries in both the East and West has maintained that something distinct and unusual was afforded to Mary at the end of her earthly life. Like the traditions of the holy men Enoch and Elijah, who did not die but were “taken” by God, Mary, a holy and favored woman is added to that rank. The relationship between Mary and God was so strong and essential to her personhood that she could suffer no separation, no corruption in being with God. Mary is invited and accepts the invitation to walk in the eternal present with God. Despite the scriptural silence regarding Mary, this distinction that the apostolic tradition of the Church gives here speaks volumes about not only her worthiness of imitation as a disciple of her son, but the possibilities of our own discipleship and the fruit of such living for us.
Mary was truly a unique human person. Aside from Adam, Eve, and her son Jesus, she is the only other human being created/born without Original Sin. Yet unlike Adam and Eve, who originated the persisting state of sin in the world, and Jesus her son, who bore a divine nature in perfect union with his human nature, Mary was simply human.
Saints and sages have poured over what the meaning and goal of our human lives ought to be, and one of them, St. Ignatius of Loyola, articulates his proposal in the First Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises:
“The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.”
Noting that St. Ignatius had a deep devotion to and love of Mary, it is not surprising that this principle is perfectly reflected in Mary’s life. Mary’s simple, single-hearted love of God and response to God’s love is the source of her very greatness. It is the source of her proclamation of the greatness of God in the Magnificat, the paradigmatic song of praise. One who wants to live with God forever need only love God as Mary did. Simple, right?
Unfortunately for me and I reckon nearly all other fellow pilgrims, life is more complicated than that. Original Sin rears its vicious head in our lives as we actively and passively suffer the effects of broken relationships with God, forgetting our dignified work of praise and worship of God in loving service to God and creation. Yet the perfect gift of God’s presence and life given to creation though Mary, Jesus Christ, is the very gift that sustains us and gives us hope today. Mary bore the Body of Christ in both his life and even his death, and she continues to bear us and encourage us as members of Christ’s Body, the Church, today. The unceasing song of praise in the liturgy, the works of mercy—corporal and spiritual—, all this and more invite us to participate, to walk with Mary and other holy women and men, in God’s eternal presence now and forever.
Meditation on the Assumption of Mary can lead to considerations of our own telos, our end and goal, in life. As noted at the conclusion of Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi, On Christian Hope, Mary is as a guiding star to her children and fellow pilgrims in the Church. Her emphatic “yes” to God at the Annunciation began a lifelong witness to cooperation with the transformative and saving presence of God Incarnate in the world and the Assumption testifies to the fruit of that active, responsive, and responsible relationship with God in charity. St. Paul wrote that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23, NABRE). The assumption of Mary’s whole human nature, both body and soul, into the eternal divine presence is God’s even more emphatic “yes” to Mary’s fiat.
God invites each of God’s creatures, each of us, to walk with God. Say “yes.” You’ll be in good company.