The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is sort of an odd feast. Which is ok. The reason it seems so odd is that the purpose or point of the doctrine is not usually understood (just like the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is often misunderstood and commonly confused with the Virgin Birth). So what’s the deal with the Assumption?
Basically, it’s a commemoration of the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, and her bodily entrance into heaven. The official promulgation of the dogma reads: “Having completed the course of her earthly life, [Mary] was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950).
The oddity comes in the interpretation of that dogmatic statement. What does that mean? Here is where things become tricky. Some people will want to know about spatiality of “heaven” and “where” is it located (where is it that Mary went?). Others will be concerned about the meaning of the resurrection and what constitutes a “glorified body.” Theologians are generally agreed that heaven, as such, is not a place like Boston is a place or my doctor’s office is a place. So, then, what does this dogma mean for us? Is it just a ruse?
No. I think that it’s important to recall that anytime there is a doctrinal statement about Mary, it’s always a reference about Christ (sometimes a more oblique reference than we might like). Like the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary into Glory is a statement about hope. Hope for heavenly reward and the glorification of all people, but also hope in the saving power of God.
Mary has the distinct honor of being considered the first for many things. The Immaculate Conception signifies the power of God’s gracious forgiveness of the human condition of sin. Often times we call it “original sin.” This was accomplished, that dogma states, through the redemptive power of Christ Jesus. Think of it as sort of retroactive – even before the birth of Jesus, God through the power of the Spirit “baptized” Mary.
In the case of the Assumption of Mary, we have another first. Whereas the Immaculate Conception represents the first of human redemption, the Assumption represents the first of human glorification. By first, I don’t mean something like “first in line.” Rather, first as in the model or icon of the whole event. Mary is seen as like the poster child of God’s grace and love of creation. Why Mary? There is no entirely satisfactory answer to that question. But there is one big clue and it is her response of “yes” to the will of God. I think that her openness to God and her understanding of what God is about is captured very well in today’s Gospel, where we hear proclaimed the canticle Mary says in response to her cousin’s recognition of God’s work in her.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.” (Luke 1:39-56)
This post originally appeared on DatingGod.org on 15 August 2010.