This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The dogma of Mary’s Assumption articulates the Catholic belief that Mary, upon her death, was assumed both body and soul into heaven. In other words, Catholics believe that Mary’s flesh, which literally carried God on earth, was too sacred to suffer decomposition and physical corruption, and so it was brought with her soul into eternal life.
This belief obviously reveals a profound reverence for Mary, but (despite all the knee-jerk criticisms to the contrary) one must not forget that the reason Catholics hold Mary in such high esteem is that she points the way back to God so effectively for all of us.
The readings for this Marian feast helpfully highlight this point. First, the symbolic language from the Book of Revelation prompts immediate comparisons to Mary’s role in the mystery of the Incarnation, when “she gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations.” The culminating message of this reading is the voice in heaven proclaiming, “Now have salvation and power come,” a clear reminder of the efficacy of Mary’s willingness to cooperate with the plan of God.
Through her “Yes” in response to the angel Gabriel, Mary gave herself as the conduit for God’s grand plan for our salvation to come to fruition. In this act, she serves as a model for each of us, for we are equally called to cooperate with the work of God in the world (see Laborem Exercens, no. 25). Mary provides a paradigmatic version of what it means to answer this call and revealing the goodness that awaits us once we do.
The second reading amplifies these insights, especially when we consider its words in light of the Solemnity of the Assumption. “In Christ shall all be brought to life,” St. Paul maintains, “but each one in proper order.” With this caveat, Paul implies a progressive fulfillment of the Kingdom, suggesting that we might be able to learn something from “those who belong to Christ.”
Read in the context of Mary’s assumption into heaven, this progressive vision underscores the Catholic conviction that Mary reveals something of ourselves to us in her life, and death. Her union with God in both body and soul is a fuller realization of the heavenly hope all Christians long to attain. She has been “brought to life” in a whole new way—a way no other human has yet to achieve.
While we do not expect to have our same earthly bodies with us in heaven in quite this fashion, those who believe in the resurrection of the body nevertheless expect to see their souls reunited with their (glorified) body. That Mary, the human being who can rightly claim to have been the closest to God on earth, should experience this kind of reunification already is another reason for us to remain steadfast in our faith that we too, by the grace of God, can be brought to this life, for if we expect “each one in proper order” then we can accept that Mary is but the first in a long line and not the last for all time.
Of course, the reading that stresses Mary’s status as a signpost pointing us back to God the most is the Gospel. Here we see the words of Mary’s Magnificat, which proclaims the work that God brings to fulfillment, through Mary, in Christ. This is a remarkable testament to God’s power to overcome evil, and suffering, on this earth.
“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,” Mary avows. And, of course, in Mary God has done precisely this. By cooperating with God, Mary has come to understand God, and God’s plans, on a whole new level. In the Magnificat, she immediately shares that understanding with Elizbeth, and with us.
The question we should contemplate, then, is how we might embody this vision in our own lives now. If Mary is indeed a model for us, as the readings (and the context of the Solemnity) insist, then we should be looking to understand God and God’s plans as fully as she did on the day of her visitation. How then, are we called to see the mighty cast down, the lowly uplifted, and the hungry filled today? How can we make the words of the Magnificat as true in 2021 as they were more than 2,000 years ago?
I certainly do not have all the answers to these questions, but I hope we can use this Solemnity as an occasion to at least raise them. It’s the only way to honor the Catholic claim that Mary is a model for us on this day.