By Father Richard S. Jones
Chaplain, UMPC Mercy Hospital
The strength of everyday Catholic devotion to the Blessed Mother – and the strength families supported by those prayers – came home to me on a recent visit to an 88-year-old widower and leg amputee. He had arrived at UPMC Mercy hospital with a forehead gash after falling out of his wheelchair as he attempted to pick up his rosary beads, which had dropped onto the floor.
His son drove six-and-a-half hours from North Carolina to Pittsburgh to be with him at this trying time. His father’s calm and peaceful demeanor spoke volumes as he patiently waited to be discharged. What a faith story!
As we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we pray that our lives magnify the great love and mercy of God. Mary helps us to look to the heavens with confident faith, trusted hope, and abiding love.
Christians both in the East and the West have a long tradition of celebrating Mary’s Dormition (“falling asleep”), with her “translation” into heaven, which is the Assumption. Mary’s Assumption points to John 14:3— “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you also may be.” Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven to be with Jesus, the Son of God, who had prepared a place for her.
This could happen to Mary alone. As St. Thomas Aquinas points out, the last curse common to fallen men and women is that they must return to dust. Mary, however, was never tainted by original sin and remained free from this curse. Thus, she did not go to the grave, but was taken body and soul directly into heaven – lifted or “assumed” there by her Son.
Pope Pius XII defined the infallible dogma of the Assumption of Mary on November 1, 1950. In his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus (Generous God) he cited Mary’s intimate connection with her Son—the new Adam—and His victory over sin and death:
“Mary having completed her course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” by God. We accept this teaching, this doctrine of the Church as an article of faith. We believe and so we pray, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace.”
Mary is truly the Queen of heaven. “Mary already shares in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all the members of His Body” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 974).
She has been “exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she may be the more fully conformed to her Son” (Catechism, 966). Her Assumption is a sign of sure hope (Lumen Gentium, 68, Vatican II) that Jesus will raise us up to rejoice with Him forever.
In the words of St. Paul concerning what happens to our bodies after death: “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body”. (1 Cor. 15:42-44)
Mary’s great prayer, the Magnificat, gives voice to her hope and faith that God will rescue His people, beginning with those most poor and lowly. It echoes through the corridors of time for those who trust and believe in God’s promises. Mother of God, Queen of heaven and earth, pray for us.
We celebrate Mary’s life and rejoice in her everlasting reward. Her exemplary witness reminds us that today is an opportunity to renew our own hope in the promise, that on the last day, our soul will be reunited with our resurrected body, and we will rise, body and soul, to life everlasting.
We rejoice in Mary, our spiritual mother in faith, and give praise and glory to God for her faithfulness, humility, obedience, holiness, and love. She is indeed the most perfect model of every Christian virtue, and it is fitting that both Sacred Scriptures and tradition unite to proclaim her Assumption into her eternal reward in heaven.
May this amazing and most wonderful truth stir us and spur us to live out our faith more fully, day by day.