The Blessed Mother and the 2 Mysteries of the Assumption

COMMENTARY: Mary’s assumption is not ‘just’ a special privilege for her, ‘conceived without sin.’ It tells us that what began with Jesus’ resurrection, already realized body and soul in Mary, is what God intends for all ‘who love him.’

Guido Reni, ‘Assumption of the Virgin Mary’, c. 1638-39
Guido Reni, ‘Assumption of the Virgin Mary’, c. 1638-39 (photo: Public domain)

When most Catholics think of the Assumption, they typically focus on one part of it: that Mary was taken, body and soul, to heaven.

That’s both true and important, not only because it tells us about how special the Blessed Virgin was, but also because it makes us aware of our own calling. 

Mary’s assumption is not “just” a special privilege for her, “conceived without sin.” It tells us that what began with Jesus’ resurrection, already realized body and soul in Mary, is what God intends for all “who love him” (Romans 8:11, 23, 28).

Sometimes we forget that the Resurrection, the Assumption and the Last Judgment are all connected, one chain of salvation working its way toward the final consummation of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). They are not just separate events, much less historical moments that happened and are “over.” They very much continue to have an impact on all who believe in Christ.

So the fact that Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven is relevant for us. That’s one aspect of this feast, the one we most commonly think about. But there’s another.

Blessed Tomás Morales reminds us of the two sides of the Assumption: 

“We are better pervaded with these sentiments of joy … if we contemplate successively, with growing love, the two moments that make up this feast: the Transit and the Assumption.”

When Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, he wrote: “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” (Munificentissimus Deus, 44).

The Pope was very careful in the words he chose to formulate his dogmatic definition. He did not say “Mary died.” He wrote of her “having completed the course of her earthly life.”

Ever since Adam and Eve, human beings have experienced death as enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26), in at least two ways. One is the wrenching apart of our human unity. Death “goes against the grain” of our humanity. It rips body and soul apart. But that is simply the effect of sin, which rips apart relationships: with God, with our fellow human beings, with the created world, and even with ourselves. 

The second way we experience death as enemy is the fact that death brings fear. But it’s not “fear of the unknown” because, instinctively, we recognize that death brings us face-to-face with God. Somehow, we know primordially that the moment for giving an account of our lives has come, and in the sight of the all-holy God we experience “fear and trembling” because of our sins. Because, if God is Love (1 John 4:8), since “fear has to do with punishment, love is not yet perfect in one who is afraid” (4:18). 

In taking upon himself the burden of our sins, is that what Jesus felt when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46). 

Now, if Adam and Eve had not sinned, would they have died? 

Theologians have mused about that question, with some speculating that this world — even in its initially created state — was not necessarily humanity’s final destination and, therefore, there might have come a time in their lives when Adam and Eve, “having completed the course of their earthly lives,” would have passed on to God. Some theologians asked whether they would have died, but perhaps the question is: How would they have passed on?

Since we speak of Mary as “the new Eve,” is it fair to say that her “transit” from this life to God is perhaps “what God planned for those who love him” (Roman 8:28; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10) ... if they had not failed to love him in return?

The Byzantine tradition speaks of this solemnity as Mary’s “Dormition,” her “falling asleep.” But Blessed Tomás Morales speaks of Mary’s transit much more actively. He sees this moment as Mary’s heart being so full of love, so penetrated by love, that she was ready to burst from this life — body and soul, as a whole person — to her Father who created her, her Son awaiting her and her Spirit, who espoused her.

I remember reading a meditation once about the moment of our passing — in our cases, the moment of death. The author suggested that, while that day and hour remain a mystery to us, we should believe it comes providentially. 

For the just, we trust that God will call them when they are most ready in his eyes. For the damned, perhaps God may call them before they dig themselves even more deeply into hell, for, as there are degrees of beatitude, so there also of reprobation (Dante expressed that truth with literary flair when he wrote about the circles of hell).

If we take it as true that our death is a matter of Providence, then Mary’s love of her Son and her God could also certainly grow — even when she came to know her boy in “the breaking of the bread,” even when she received the Spirit again in a new way on Pentecost, even as she progressed through her own life. 

If we truly believe God “makes all things work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), then in the mystery of the Assumption do we not experience the transit — when heart speaks to heart: “It’s time to come home”? 

Oscar Wergeland, “Service in a German Village Church,” ca. 1880

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“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” [CCC 2181]