Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary, a commemoration of the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven, before her body could begin to decay. (There is a difference between how the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church speaks about the end of Mary’s life, the former focusing on the raising up of Mary and the latter on her not being subject to death because of her freedom from original sin.)
What if anything does the Assumption mean for us?
For most of my Christian life, this was a feast I pretty much ignored, deciding it wasn’t something central or even all that important to my faithlife. One of the difficulties for me is that the “Mary, Queen of Heaven” image that tends to be associated with this feast is not an image of Mary I relate to. When I see pictures depicting Mary’s Assumption or Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven they bear no resemblance to the Mary of my prayers. Mary, the woman with the strength to say Yes to what must have seemed an insane and frightening proposition that she give birth to God. Mary, the woman at Cana who told the servants to do as Jesus asked. Mary, who stayed with Jesus til the end and then took the dead body of her son in her arms. Mary, who stayed with the apostles after the death, doubtless comforting (mothering) them in their loss of Jesus. Even more so after my retreat earlier this summer, where I had such a sense of Mary’s supportive presence to Jesus throughout his public ministry, as well as during his earlier life.
If our picture of the Assumption is of a prone Mary being bodily lifted up by angels into heaven, it doesn’t seem to have much significance for us. That, after all, is not what happens to the rest of us.
On the other hand, if our focus on the Assumption is on Mary’s experience as an embodiment of the reality of our Resurrection, it becomes something much mor meaningful to us. Jesus resurrection is, of course, the true victory over death – that which gives creates the possibility of our own resurrection and ultimate full union with God. But with Jesus there is always the nagging thought, “Well sure, he was God, of course it worked for him. He may have been fully human, but he was also fully divine from the get go.”
But Mary was human, like us. And Mary’s assumption into heaven, body and soul, symbolizes for us the reality of what will happen for all of – resurrection of the body into full union with God. You can phrase it various ways as a matter of dogma. But her experience is, in simplest terms, a foretaste of our own.