Sometimes we can look at the unique privileges of Mary and merely admire them from afar. She’s the Immaculate Conception. She’s the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She’s the Mother of God.
We marvel at what God did for Mary, but we might feel she is too far removed from our own experience. “I can’t relate to Mary,” some might say. “I’m far from being a sinless, immaculate virgin. I’m rarely treated like a queen. And while my kids are wonderful, they are far from being divine.” We can wonder, “What do all these Marian doctrines have to do with my life?”
We Catholics often fail to see how everything God did in Mary points to her Son Jesus and to the work He wants to accomplish in our lives.
This especially true with Mary’s assumption.
Much religious art beautifully depicts this scene with angels pushing Mary up on the clouds, angels with trumpets and string instruments rejoicing as she nears heaven, and her Son Jesus welcoming her and crowning her as Queen. It’s a splendid portrayal. Yet, one might still wonder, “What does Mary’s glorious assumption have to do with my life?”
First, God gave Mary the unique privilege of being assumed body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life. But we must see this in light of Jesus’ promise to all faithful disciples that they would receive a share in his victory over death and in his glorious resurrection (1 Cor 15). Since the Bible reveals Mary as the first and model disciple in the New Testament, it is fitting that she would receive the fruits of Christ’s resurrection first. Mary was the first to say “Yes” to God’s will in the New Covenant era with her fiat (Luke 1:38) and the one who remained faithful to God throughout her life from Bethlehem (Luke 2:19) to Calvary (John 19:25-27) and to her prayerful anticipation of the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). As the first disciple, it seems appropriate that she would be the first to receive Christ’s promised share in his resurrection.
Moreover, the Bible reveals Mary to be the one who receives the blessings of God’s people first. We see this especially in the prayerful praise Mary gives to God at the Visitation known as the Magnificat. In the first half of Mary’s prayer, the focus is on what God is doing for her. She praises God for looking upon her lowliness and doing great things for her: she has become the mother of God (Luke 1:46-49). But in the second half of the prayer, Mary praises God for what He is doing in all of Israel: God will look upon Israel’s lowliness and exalt those of low degree (Luke 1:50-55).
The key here is to see that what God does for Mary (first half of the Magnificat) anticipates what God will do for the rest of his people (second half of the Magnficat). God looks upon lowly Mary, a young, unknown virgin in the obscure village of Nazareth, and raises her up to miraculously conceive a child and become the mother of Israel’s messiah. Just as God looked upon the lowly Mary and exalted her, God will look upon his lowly people Israel, rescue them from their sufferings and exalt them.
This Biblical pattern found in the Magnificat can shed light on the Assumption. As the first disciple who goes before us—as the one who received in anticipation the blessings God wished to bestow on the rest of his people—it is fitting that Mary receives first the share in Christ’s resurrection which he promised all faithful disciples. Mary participates in Christ’s victory over death first and in a unique way: she was assumed body and soul right at the end of her earthly life, while the rest of us will die and our bodies will decay, only to be restored at the end of time in the resurrection of the body.
But Mary’s assumption is a crucial, hope-filled sign for us. Life does not end with death. And Jesus didn’t just promise that we can share in his victory over death. He didn’t just say that we would share in his glorious resurrection. Jesus actually gave us one concrete, bodily example showing what awaits us at the end of life. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger once said, Mary in her assumption is “not merely the Church’s promised certitude of salvation, but its bodily certitude also.” (Daughter Zion, 81).
So the dogma of Mary’s assumption constantly reminds us of our ultimate destination. Every time we reflect on this Fourth Glorious Mystery, it encourages us to persevere on our journey of faith. If we remain faithful in our walk with Christ all throughout our lives, we will join Mary and all the saints in heaven. Whenever we face trials and sufferings in life or temptations to cling to our own pride, vanity, greed or lust, Mary’s assumption reminds us to keep our eyes on the prize, to never waiver from the course, to constantly move forward in faith.
Mary in her Assumption has crossed the finish line. She has fought the good fight. She has won the race. And now she cheers us on to complete our race well reminding us of the imperishable crown of righteousness that awaits us in heaven if we persevere in surrendering our entire lives to Christ as she did.