Every Aug. 15, as we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary — not just a feast but a solemnity and a holy day of obligation — the Church reminds us why God took Mary to heaven body and soul. He did it for our sake.
Lifted to Christ’s side, the
Blessed Mother “is given to us as a pledge and guarantee that God’s plan in
Christ for the salvation of the whole man has already achieved realization in a
creature: in her.”
That’s how Pope Paul VI explained it in his 1974 apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus (For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary). The Holy Father added that Mary “shows forth the victory of hope over anguish, of fellowship over solitude, of peace over anxiety, of joy and beauty over boredom and disgust, of eternal visions over earthly ones, of life over death.”
Pope John Paul II built on those themes when, in his Angelus reflection on the feast in 1995, he said, “Her assumption into heaven is … an eloquent sign of God’s fidelity to the universal plan of salvation aimed at the redemption of every man and of all men.”
“Mary is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise,” he reminded us in August, 2004. “Her assumption thus becomes for us a sign of sure hope and consolation.”
And just last year, Pope Benedict XVI put it simply. “We have a mother in heaven,” he said in his 2005 Assumption homily. “Heaven is open; heaven has a heart.”
That hope and that heart are the rungs of a ladder leading to heaven — not in some abstract theological musing, but for real people leading real lives.
Take Mary Moore of St. Mary Church
“Since then, her feast days just
jump out at me,”
Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate Father Peter Damian Fehlner, a noted Mariologist, puts it like this: “We have in Our Lady a concrete implication in what is going to be our future if we are faithful to Christ.”
God’s Might Revealed
Christians began realizing that implication right from the start. By the sixth century, the Church in the East was celebrating the feast of our Blessed Mother’s Dormition (falling asleep). Shortly after, St. John Damascene was writing about her assumption. And, in the Renaissance, splendid masterpiece paintings and sculptures reverently depicted the glorious, hope-filled event.
Friar of the Renewal Father Andrew Apostoli sees more than one reason why Mary’s assumption is a source and sign of great hope for us.
In conjunction with Our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, he points out, it’s another example that Christ has conquered death. In bringing his mother body and soul to heaven, he showed his power to destroy death.
“Mary perfectly fulfilled the Father’s will in her life, and was rewarded with her assumption to share in the joys and blessings of the most Holy Trinity, their very life,” says Father Apostoli. “So we have the hope that we, too, will be rewarded by God for the good we do on earth, the struggles we go through and the crosses we bear if we have been faithful to Jesus.”
And who’s going to help us be faithful and get there? None other than Mary herself, Pope Benedict XVI assured us in his 2005 Assumption homily.
“Mary is taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven, and with God and in God she is Queen of heaven and earth,” said the Holy Father. “And is she really so remote from us? The contrary is true. Precisely because she is with God and in God, she is very close to each one of us … knows our hearts, can hear our prayers, can help us with her motherly kindness and has been given to us, as the Lord said, precisely as a ‘mother’ to whom we can turn at every moment.”
“She always listens to us, she is always close to us, and being Mother of the Son, participates in the power of the Son and in his goodness,” added Benedict. “We can always entrust the whole of our lives to this Mother, who is not far from any one of us.”
Armed With the Assumption
Father Fehlner points out the paradox that Mary’s assumption — which on its face seems to take her away from us — in fact brings us nearer her Immaculate Heart.
“Our Lady’s assumption places her in a position to effectively carry out her role as mediatrix of all graces and Mother of the Church,” he says, “as realized in what is called the ‘Marian principle of the Church’ by our current Pope and his predecessor.”
Following this principle to its logical conclusions, he notes, leads many to consecrate themselves to Our Lady.
Father Fehlner says the Aug. 14 feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a passionate promoter of this consecration, underscores the importance of the Assumption. So dedicated to Our Lady was St. Maximilian that God granted him the honor of being martyred in a Nazi concentration camp during the vigil of the Assumption.
For us, too, the Assumption can become a source of great strength for spiritual battle.
“We’re definitely talking about conquest,” says Father Fehlner. “This was foretold and promised in Genesis 3:14-15. (Then the Lord God said to the serpent … ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.’) It’s a joint victory of Christ and Mary.”
“What does it mean to be in constant warfare with the prince of this world?” adds Father Fehlner. “It means she’s going to enjoy the total victory and, if we are on her side, we will too. We’re the guaranteed winner.”
No Greater Hope
That comforting truth brings us around to another reason why the Assumption is a sign of great hope.
Father Apostoli says that we hope one day we too will be united in heaven with Jesus, Mary, all the saints, all our family members, all those we knew and loved on earth.
“Mary has gone ahead of us and we can have a hopeful desire to be united with her in heaven,” he says. “When we love Our Lady, the more we yearn for her and want to be with her.”
Every week praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and meditating on the Assumption, he says, can make us think of wanting to be with Mary. This can build in us an attitude of joyful, and realistic, hope.
Mary Moore finds abundant fruit in this practice.
“I have that hope whenever we
celebrate the Assumption or we pray the fourth Glorious Mystery decade on the
Father Apostoli emphasizes a final point.
“There’s a double family element in the Assumption,” he says. “There’s the universal family of all of God’s people of whom Mary is the mother. And there’s our particular family. We’ll be rejoicing with both of them.”
“We will be reunited with our mother and all our brothers and sisters. And we will know and have a special love for those we knew on earth and a special love for our loved ones,” he says. “Mary’s assumption reminds us of the bonds of love that will continue in heaven spiritualized and brought in conformity to God’s love, deepened and supernaturalized.”
“There’s not much greater hope,” he concludes, “than that.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from