As we prepare for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven (Aug 15) are we really aware of what this mystery means? It is not a mystery about Mary. It is about man. Every wonder that God works through Mary is a revelation that he makes to us about who we are in relationship to him.
In the Eastern Churches this day is remembered as the Dormition of Mary. No one knows for sure if Mary suffered a physical death or not. To be consistent with the theology of original sin, the early Church believed that when her earthly life was over, her son took her into heaven, body and soul. Notice that it says when her earthly life was over, not when she died. So it came to pass, that in the Eastern Churches, the day of Mary’s assumption into heaven is called the Dormition. It is believed that she fell asleep, rather than die. Because she who had no original sin, could not suffer the fate of death.
One would automatically have a knee-jerk reaction and say that Jesus had no original sin and he suffered death. But there is an ontological difference between Jesus and Mary. Jesus came to assume our sins and thus through the grief and weight of our sinfulness, he suffered death. Mary, did not come to assume our sinfulness. She was not the Messiah. If one is looking for a good example of why Catholics and Orthodox Christians do not worship Mary, here it is. We do not believe that she took upon herself the sins of the world, because it was impossible for her to do so, as she was not the Messiah, but his mother.
But Mary’s assumption tells us much more about us. It reminds us that we too shall not remain sealed in a tomb. It reminds us that what God promised through the resurrection of Christ he will fulfill. Christ said that he who believed in him would live forever. He proved his power to grant eternal life through is own resurrection. But he proves that he keeps his promise through the assumption of Mary. Mary’s assumption is the sign that Christ will give us eternal life as he promised. He can do it and he will do it. The resurrection proves that he can do so. Mary’s assumption proves that he will fulfill his word.
There is another human reality in the assumption. That reality is the reality of ecclesial love. Mary was very much a part of the Church. The early Church loved her. How do we know this? Because we have inherited the story of her assumption by word of mouth from the Christians of that first generation. The kept her memory alive and with them. Mary was part of their Church. Why else keep her memory alive? The assumption reminds us of the unity of the Church. It reminds us that the Church has a history. The story of Mary’s assumption is not found in the scriptures. The scriptures are about Christ, not his mother. But her story is found in the collective memory of those who wrote the scriptures. They passed her story from one generation to the next. Why should their writings be more valid than their oral tradition? Were they not the same disciples and evangelists? How can we argue that what they wrote down is the inspired word of God, but what they told by word of mouth is not? That would be to call them liars, frauds. They write truth and speak lies. That does not work. Those who are given to the truth proclaim it in writing, in words, and in actions. So that Mary’s assumption reveals something about the credibility of the Gospel writers and their disciples. If we deny what they said about her assumption, then we must put their written word under scrutiny. If we accept their written word, then their spoken word must have equal value and respect. Do you see how God’s work in Mary’s life is really about our own relationship with him?
So, as we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption or the Dormition, let us think about our relationship with God and with the Church. Let us share with each other how God has worked through our lives to reinforce our faith and the faith of others. Because this is what this feast is about. God assumed Mary into heaven to strengthen the faith of the Church, to remind the Church that he keeps his covenant. Mary is the eternal sign of the Church. Because God had made a covenant with the Church, it was fitting that he begin to fulfill his promise to the Church through the Mother of the Church. God does with Mary what he hopes to do with the Church, to raise it to heaven in body and soul.
Everyone is welcome to share their remarks and reflections.
Br. JR, OSF