We are roughly half way between Easter and Christmas, and the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven is the second feast this month (the other being the Transfiguration) which lifts our gaze upwards, towards our final goal. Christ does not only want to exercise his power of love to help us on earth – by feeding our hungers of body and soul (first Sunday of August) and by calming our fears (second Sunday) – but to bring us to heaven itself. He shows his love for us most especially by showing his power over our death and opening for us the path to eternity.
Christ’s own resurrection from the dead is what makes that possible. Our weakness, though, might make us say, “well, he has exercised his power in raising himself, but he is God: how do we know that he can or will do it for us?” The answer is the Assumption of Our Lady. This personal resurrection of Our Lady in her body and then her assumption body and soul into heaven are proof of his power to raise all humanity from death in the body. Mary is the Mother of the human race in the spiritual realm. That is her Son’s gift and command to her. She is the New Eve. And where the Mother has gone, her children will follow.
In some ways, you might say that Mary should never have been on earth at all. She was preserved from original sin like our first parents in paradise, and paradise is where the sinless belong! But, of course, the reason she was spared from original sin was so that, as the New Eve, she would work with and be subject to the New Adam, Christ her Son, whose blood it was which merited for her the grace of an immaculate heart. The serpent penetrated into paradise to bring about the Fall of the Old Adam and Eve and their descendants; but the New Adam and Eve were sent to this sinful earth to bring about the Raising Up of those descendants who would believe in the Cross of Jesus.
It wasn’t by chance that Jesus assumed Our Lady into heaven, as if he might just as easily have picked someone else. No, if we can say it this way, it was the natural or expected outcome of all of the other privileges which Our Lady enjoyed, as well as of her total obedience to God’s will putting those privileges into practice. She is the “most excellent fruit of redemption” according to Vatican II (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 103). God predestined her to become the Mother of the incarnate Son. That does not mean that Mary had no choice but to do what she was told. Otherwise, the angel would not have needed her consent, her “fiat”, for the conception of Jesus to take place. What was predestined was the fullness of grace with which God endowed her, both to make her worthy to bear and raise Jesus and to make it easier for her to give her consent – but it was still her true consent. The fullness of grace refers primarily to her Immaculate Conception, but also to all the other graces of a spiritual and corporal kind which she was given to fulfil her mission.
Another privilege which prepared Mary for the Assumption was her perpetual virginity. Physical virginity finds its true religious value only when it is motivated by spiritual reasons. And, in fact, Our Lady’s virginity is a sign that her faith was free from any doubt and that she made an undivided gift of herself to the will of God. The virginal conception of Jesus points not only to a miraculous work of grace: it tells us that the incarnation was exclusively and absolutely the result of God’s own initiative and of his direct action upon Our Lady. Jesus has only God as Father. It also tells us that Mary herself enjoys a unique and exclusive bond in the flesh with the Son of God. An ancient Council says it so beautifully, “He is naturally Son of the Father as to his divinity and naturally son of his mother as to his humanity, but properly Son of the Father in both natures” (Council of Friuli, 796).
As Mother of the Church, Mary is also called the Mother-Bride of Christ, since the Church is the Bride of Christ and Mary is both its Mother and its pre-eminent member. She is also called the Bride of the Holy Spirit, not only because he “covered her with his shadow” at the moment of Christ’s conception but also because the Spirit enjoyed a depth and breadth of influence and welcome in Our Lady because of her fullness of grace.
The Virgin birth, too, is a singular grace and privilege of Mary which Catholic Tradition has constantly taught. Vatican II reaffirms this privilege when it says that “Christ’s birth did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it” (Lumen Gentium, n.57). The prayers and liturgy of the Church across the millennia have likewise referred to Mary as “ever-virgin.” The references to brothers and sisters of Jesus in the New Testament have always been interpreted by the Church as referring to his cousins, not to any sibling or other child of Mary.
The privilege of being Mother of God is not merely physical. Every mother knows how deep and pervasive the bonds of emotion, spirit, thought and action are between herself and her child. These bonds between Mary and her Son will have deepened and extended daily across the years of the hidden life. It is both difficult and wonderful to consider how Mother and Son will have mutually influenced one another over the years, especially in that passion common to them both which was and remains the will of the Father in heaven. Unique in history after the Fall, these are two sinless souls, bound by all that is good in our humanity and bound even more by the Spirit of God at work through the fullness of grace in each of them and between both of them. No closer bond between a human person and a divine person can be imagined or found other than the one between Mary and Jesus. They will have known and possessed each other’s minds and hearts in a depth and with a clarity never known before or since, for the Spirit of God was their bond of union and communion, unhindered by any sin of any kind.
It is that profound, inner bond between them in doing the will of the Father under the inspiration of the Spirit which brings to a climax the privileges of Mary, namely, her union with the suffering, death and resurrection of her Son.
The Book of Genesis gives us the image of the first Adam and Eve, still in a state of grace, alone together near the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They acquiesce in the serpent’s temptation to disobedience and pride and all hell breaks loose: they lose communion with God, the ground is cursed because of them and they are themselves cursed with suffering, pain and death.
The New Adam and Eve, filled with grace, are also alone and sinless at the tree of the Cross. Christ himself is the fruit; he is the truth who establishes all that is good and evil, and he is the resurrection and the life. He is tempted by the crowd to be disobedient and come down from the Cross, a temptation which Mary, too, will have heard. But neither acquiesces in the temptation. While it is alone the obedience of Jesus unto death which saves us, Mary was his helper sharing in the depths of her heart and soul in his obedience, in his suffering and in his death. Adam and Eve were to have been mutual helpers to each other but failed. Christ and Mary took their place and won. And because of them, all heaven broke loose!
Our Lady’s union with Christ was total. That’s what the fullness of grace means. The whole purpose of her existence, once she consented to it, and the whole purpose of her perpetual virginity and motherhood was to be one with her Son in his entire mission and work of redemption. That work was completed in his death and resurrection. Just as she shared in his death through her compassion, just as she will then have died her own death as an act of love and surrender to the Son and the Father, so she shared in the resurrection and ascension of her Son. By his power of divine love he raised her from death, reunited her with her soul and assumed her body and soul to share in the fullness of his glory.
The Assumption of Mary is therefore her final and crowning privilege, the one which rewards and fulfils all the others she received and with which she cooperated totally.
As Mother of the Church and its first member, she gives an example to us of what our own destiny will be if, like her, we persevere in faith. Our destiny is not among the passing things of this earth even if we can only attain that destiny by using the things of this life in accordance with the will of God. By baptism, we were also given the fullness of grace and, if we sin, we can regain it in many ways, but chiefly through the Eucharist and Confession. Like Mary, our calling, too, is to cooperate fully with the will of God for us whether that involves consolations or suffering.
As our Mother, who still retains in heaven the profound bonds of love and affection with Jesus which she had on earth, she prays for us and works with us so that we come through the womb which is our life here below to be born through the tomb to the life above. And when the last day comes, it is our certain hope that, as with her, Christ will raise our bodies and reunite them with our souls and assume us to be with Our Lady, all the redeemed and Jesus himself in the Kingdom of heaven.
Mary, assumed into heaven, pray for us and shine forth brightly as our star of hope on our pilgrim way!