The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated down through the ages in both the Eastern and Western Christian churches. In 1950 Pope Pius XII declared what the Church long held to be true, that at her death Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. Much of the Apostolic Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus” (most bountiful God), is devoted to describing the historical developments and traditions of the Assumption. Near the end of the document, Pius expressed three things he hoped would follow from formalizing the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) into Church doctrine.
First, Pius hoped that by meditating on this article of faith, believers would be moved with a desire to grow in unity as Christ’s Mystical Body and so increase in love for his, and our mother, who loves and cares for each and all the members. Related to that, he hoped that we would be “more and more convinced” of the value of living a life of complete integrity, body and soul, and so follow Mary’s example of loving service, “bringing good to others.” And lastly, “that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven [would] make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.”
Throughout our life we inevitably experience the Paschal Mystery. Through times of suffering and dying of our ego and self-centeredness, of broken relationships, of calamities of natural disasters, civil conflict and war, as Christians we believe that death does not have the final word. We are resurrection people—people who believe that God is already and always working in and with and through us to bring us to new life. Our mother, Mary, shows us the way of discipleship and cooperation with grace to bring forth new life in Christ.
In the Eastern tradition this celebration is known as the “Dormition of Mary,” her “falling asleep,” and has inspired great works of art and iconography. Fr. William Hart McNichols, a contemporary iconographer, was commissioned by the Jesuit magazine America to write an icon for this occasion (click here). His icon shows Jesus gathering Mary into his arms, much as she must have held and carried him. In an accompanying reflection by Ms. Mirabai Starr, in their collaborative work Mother of God Similar to Fire, she invites us to take our place with the beloved disciple John next to Mary while she rests for a time “to carry our share of suffering and beauty, of radical mystery and unexpected grace.”
Next week we will observe the octave of this feast when we celebrate the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What might each of us do in the next eight days to honor and emulate Mary? How might we stand with her and for her, being and instrument of life, caring for some part of the Body of Christ that is dear to our hearts?