The Assumption of Mary

August 9, 1998
Brother John Raymond

Mary the mother of Jesus is a saint. Yet, it always strikes me a bit strange when I hear her referred to as Saint Mary. Perhaps because I am used to calling her "Our Lady." It also may have something to do with the fact that she is unique among the saints. She was immaculately conceived, is full of grace and is the Mother of God. She is the Mother of the Church. And still that is not all. Among many other things unique to Mary was her assumption body and soul into Heaven, "a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection," (catechism #966) the feast of which we celebrate on August 15th.

The dogma of the Assumption was defined in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. Nothing was said, however, on whether or not Mary died or was assumed while still living. In the 5th century Christians celebrated a feast on August 15 called the "Memorial of Mary," that in the next century came to be called "Mary's Dormition" or "falling asleep." This eastern feast was adopted by Rome in the 7th century and its title changed to the "Assumption."

Two places claim to be Mary's burial site, Jerusalem and Ephesus. I went down into an underground cave in Jerusalem near Gethsemane that had a glassed-off section where you could reach in to touch the spot believed to be where Mary's body "slept" until assumed into Heaven. Recent excavations seem to corroborate the ancient tradition that Mary's tomb is in the Valley of Cedron (Kidron) very close to Gethsemane. To this day Greek Orthodox celebrate the death of Mary with a procession from the Benedictine Abbey Church of the Dormition, located near the Cenacle in Jerusalem, to Gethsemane. Muslims, who honor the Mother of Jesus, also take part in this procession.

The Byzantine Liturgy has this prayer for the Assumption: "In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death." It was certainly fitting that Mary, who participated so closely with her Son during His earthly mission, should share in His victorious Resurrection. Mary has already realized in herself what the rest of us will experience during the general resurrection of the dead. "The Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in Heaven is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise, she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God. (LG 68)

The glorious assumption of Mary has much to do with us. She is the honor of our race, the first fruit of the victory that Jesus won for us. She is a "sign of certain hope" for us because, just as she now shares in the Resurrection of Jesus, so we will one day, also. The Second Vatican counsel called this knowledge a "comfort" for us. And it most certainly is. It tells us that God does keep His promises. If we remain faithful unto death we will one day be with Mary in Heaven in a resurrected body. Imagine the people we will meet there, including those whom we know who have gone before us! And we will have all eternity to get to know everybody. Now that's a reunion I wouldn't want to miss!

This knowledge that "all will be well," as Julia of Norwich used to say when people despaired over the conditions of this present life, is something for us to think about. No matter how bad our situation may be, at home, in the family, at work, etc. remember that all will be well. Mary has preceeded us to Heaven and as our Mother she'll be happy when we get there!