Dear brothers and sisters, today all the members of the Catholic Church are joyfully celebrating the feast of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the sign of the glorious fulfillment which God has promised to human beings.
What does the assumption of Mary tell us about Mary? What does it have to do with our lives and hopes?
The Assumption of Mary tells us that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven. Belief that Mary has been taken up and is now in heaven with both her body and her soul has been part of the teaching of the Catholic Church since the earliest centuries of Christianity. The strongest evidence for the belief of the early Christians is found in ancient liturgies and in homilies in honor of Mary's passing. There are different traditions about the life’s ending of the Blessed Virgin Mary on earth. St. Irenaeus (d. 220) tells us that the Apostle John preached in Ephesus after Pentecost and Mary might have accompanied St. John there. There is an ancient tradition claiming that Mary died and was buried at Ephesus. Another ancient tradition claims Jerusalem as the site of her death and burial. Mary's tomb was presumably found in Jerusalem. It is believed that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that after her burial, her tomb, when opened, was found empty. Therefore, they concluded that her body had been taken up (assumed) into heaven.
Actually, we don’t know exactly where Mary died or in what year. The dogma of Mary Assumption doesn’t say in detail about how, where, or when her life ended. However, there is a universal teaching of the Eastern Church that Mary has entered into heaven after falling asleep. By the end of the middle Ages, belief in Mary's Assumption into heaven was well established theologically and part of the devotional expressions of the people. The word Assumption comes from the Latin verb “assumere”, meaning "to take to oneself." Our Lord, Jesus Christ took Mary home to himself where he is.
The central mystery of Mary is her divine motherhood. The Immaculate Conception marks the preparation for her Motherhood so that Mary has the fullness of God’s grace right from the beginning of her conception, completely untouched by original sin. Mary is full of divine grace which readies her for the exalted role as the Mother of the Savior, Mother of God (Theotokos). The Assumption of Mary completes God’s work in her since God wouldn’t allow the flesh that had given life to him undergone corruption.
The doctrine of Mary Assumption was made a dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950. The dogma has its roots in Sacred Scriptures and the traditions of the early Church. In the Epistle to the Roman from chapters 5 to 8, St. Paul discusses about the corruption of death from sin. Yes, God has preserved Mary from all stains of sin to bear His only Son Jesus Christ and Mary by sharing in Jesus Christ‘s victory over evil has escaped the corruption of death. As Pope Pius XII declared in “Munificentissimus Deus:” Consequently, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and the final sign of this victory, so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son should be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body, for the same Apostle says: When this mortal thing has put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor. 15:54).
Indeed, there is a close connection between the dogmas of Assumption, the Motherhood of God and the Immaculate Conception. God by his grace has preserved Mary from sin at conception, has prepared her to bear his only Son; and Mary by her voluntary assent to the God’s plan of redemption through her Son has set in motion the series of events that would lead to the redemption of humanity and its victory over sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Mary’s death should participate in that victory of Christ as an anticipation of the full participation of all the saved through the general resurrection at the end of human history.
The Church has never definitively said that Mary died or didn’t. The majority of Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians believe that Mary’s death had been followed immediately by a resurrection, which in turn was followed by her assumption. In light of her Immaculate Conception, Mary didn’t die from disease or aging and couldn’t experience any decay or corruption before or after death.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary talks volume to us!
It tells us that with God’s grace, everything is possible! As God has rewarded Mary in preserving her whole body and soul from corruption and brought her to Him, God will also reward us if we are faithfully following God to the end. And as Pope Emeritus Benedict the 16th said: "By contemplating Mary in her celestial glory, we understand that the earth is not our final homeland, that if we live constantly focused on that which is eternal, we can share one day that same glory. For this reason, despite our many daily challenges, we must not lose our serenity and peace. The luminous sign of the Assumption of our Lady in the heavens glows brighter than the sad shadows cast by sorrow and violence. We are certain that from high above, Mary follows our steps with sweet trepidation. She brightens our life in its dark and stormy hours and reassures us with her maternal hand. Conscious of this, we continue confident along our path shaped by our Christian commitment wherever Providence takes us".
The sign of Mary’s Assumption turns our eyes in Mary’s destination, where we will arrive when our earthly lives are over. Every time when we contemplate on the Assumption of Mary, we just don’t look only to the past as an historical event but to the present and to the future where we are looking forward to both of our soul and body being united forever with God. What a marvelous destination and hope for our human!
Deacon Vincent Thu Huu Dam