Every August 15, the Catholic faithful all over the world celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. This feast day recognizes the Catholic belief that at the end of her life on earth, the body and soul of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was taken (assumed) by God into heaven. This means that Mary’s body took on a glorified presence—as will all who enter heaven—as a result of their complete union with God. Every person in the state of grace on earth is in union with the Trinity. Our earthly union with God is still incomplete and unfulfilled. Heaven, however, is by definition perfect, complete and total union with God. Marty That’s what happened to Mary at the time of her assumption.
Pope Pius XII proclaimed this event to be a doctrine of Catholic belief on November 1, 1950, though for many centuries this belief had already been embraced many Catholics worldwide. It had been the common belief of Christians from early centuries that Mary, conceived without sin, would never suffer the corruption that all other people do after death. This belief is just one more example of the place of honor the mother of Jesus has held in the eyes of Catholic faithful.
Some Christians will argue that there is nothing in the Scriptures that in any way would prove what they see as an outlandish teaching. But while many Christian denomination base their beliefs on “Scripture alone,” our Catholic faith is based not only on God’s revealed Scripture but also on the Sacred Tradition that has been revealed by the Holy Spirit and through which the Holy Spirit has guided the Church’s teachings for 2,000 years.
The doctrine of Mary’s Assumption is based on something called a theological conclusion. The Scriptures contain indirect references to the concept of the Assumption, even if the word itself isn’t used. For example, at the Annunciation (celebrated March 25th, nine months before December 25th), the Angel Gabriel declared Mary to be “full of Grace” and “God’s highly favored daughter” (Lk 1:28). Mary conceived Jesus, the Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit as a consequence of accepting God’s plan for her. Further, when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who herself was pregnant with John the Baptist, she addressed Mary with the words, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:42).
All these biblical statements led the Church to conclude that because of her role as Mother of the Messiah, Mary would be preserved from Original Sin and its consequences. Her freedom from sin was accomplished by reason of Jesus’ foreseen redemptive death on the cross. And so, Mary was redeemed by Jesus just as all of us are. Thus, God would not allow Mary, whose womb carried the Son of God, to suffer the corruption of her body that all people experience after death. The Assumption, then, is really a logical conclusion that follows from her Immaculate Conception.
Did Mary Actually Die?
But that brings up another point. What is death? We see it as the end of a person’s life when the body disintegrates into dust, later to be resurrected at the Last Judgment. But death is also a passage from one state of life (on earth) to another state of existence (in eternity). The Church has never said whether Mary died or not. It says only that Mary made the transition from this temporal life into eternity with God. The fact that Jesus himself died on the cross would not exclude Mary’s dying, and, in fact, is an argument for some that Mary experienced death herself in imitation of her son. We just don’t know. The significant issue is that, like Jesus, her body did not suffer corruption. She passed from this life to the glory of heaven.
What About Our Reunion With Loved Ones?
Are there practical implications of this doctrine for us? Very much so. For some Christians, once we die, all relationships end except for our relationship with God. But all of God’s creation is based on relationships. We are all created as children of God, brothers and sisters to each other. Some relationships are truly significant and would never end at death. Parents give life to their children. Why would that end in heaven? Others have laid down their lives for their brothers and sisters. How could that great love not continue in heaven?
Some Christians seem to think God is insecure enough that he can’t stand competition. Then God is not God. Quite the opposite. God loves all, and wants all to love one another. God loves nothing more than us loving one another. That’s the reason for creation in the first place: sharing God’s love with one another. So, try to imagine the reunion between Mary and Jesus at that moment of transition when she was assumed into heaven. Then, too, picture her reunion with Joseph, her beloved husband, with her mother and father (traditionally named St. Ann and St. Joachim).
That is the point. Heaven is not only a state of union with God, the greatest union of all, but also a reunion with all our loved ones. What a celebration that will be! When we have a deep longing within our hearts for our blessed family reunion, we experience the touch of God himself. It was with Mary, too, as she finished her journey on earth and anticipated a heavenly reunion with her Son, Jesus, and her husband, Joseph. Mary’s Assumption tells us what you and I have to look forward to in our own wonderful reunions.
Dear Friar Jack: I have a bookmark that has this same prayer printed on it. You really opened up the meaning of this prayer with your reflections. I was able to use the prayer in my morning prayer-time, and it really touched my heart, bringing me closer to God. I also knew that this prayer is thought to be truly created by St. Francis. Cheryl
Dear Friar Jack: Hi! I’m Ellen from the Philippines. Reading your short article made me cry. I was actually discerning to enter the religious life, but circumstances are holding me back. But you know what? I’m confident enough that, no matter how many trials I have to overcome, I know it is the Lord who will always fight my battles. Because He loves us, he would never do a thing to hurt us. God bless us all, through our Mother Mary’s powerful intercession. Amen. Thank you, Ellen
Dear Friar Jack: Thanks for your reflection on the Cross of San Damiano. Last October 2009 I had the wonderful privilege of going to Rome for the canonization of five saints at St. Peter’s. We also took a side trip to Assisi. What an awesome tour. I was able to pray in front of this awesome crucifix. I was so blessed to be able to be there. I will never forget it. Janet
A: Dear Cheryl, Ellen and Janet: Thank you for your kind responses to my reflections on St. Francis’ Prayer before the Crucifix and the San Damiano Cross. God’s goodness shine through you as it shines through the words of St. Francis—and the San Damiano Cross. Let me remind you, as well as all the readers of Friar Jack’s E-spirations, that you and your loved ones remain in my prayers. May all of you continue to experience God’s goodness and healing love! Friar Jack