Minister’s forum: Mary’s assumption into heaven a sign of virtue
On Aug. 15 the universal church celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. The Catholic Church teaches that Mary, the mother of God, was taken body and soul into paradise. Pope Pius XII defined this teaching as a dogma of faith in 1950, but the belief in Mary’s bodily assumption has been part of church tradition for nearly 1,500 years. Indeed, as early as the sixth century, Aug. 15 was settled upon as the feast of the Assumption in both the east and the west of Christendom.
Ultimately, all the special privileges of the Blessed Mother are traceable to her divine motherhood, which was ratified at the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. This Council declared that Mary is Theotokos, that is “the God bearer.” The Church also teaches that Mary was conceived without sin because God foresaw that she would be the mother of his son. Her body became the receptacle of the word made flesh. Thus, the dogma of the Assumption complements the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
What does the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary mean for us in the 21st century? It had been God’s intention that every human being would be born without original sin – just as Mary was. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve sinned against God’s command and passed on to us the effects of original sin. If we had not suffered from the consequences of original sin, we could expect to be taken up to heaven body and soul at the time of our death.
At the time of Mary’s assumption, we in the West believe that she died naturally, rather than fell asleep (as Orthodoxy maintains) in imitation of her son. Thus death has no dominion over us.
Mary’s life as the “new eve” challenges us to be what God intended us to be – namely holy – by seeking to do his will on Earth. Mary’s life here on Earth serves to remind us that God’s ways are not our ways. God calls each of us to be his instruments in the world – to be his hands, his feet and his heart in the ongoing process of salvation. Because of Mary’s receptivity and total openness to God, she truly deserves to be called “blessed” (Luke 1:42). In testimony to her blessedness God received her in glory at the time of her death. Her assumption into heaven is a sign of her heroic virtue and her chosen role in the incarnation of Christ.
If we will but follow in the footsteps of Mary, we too will enjoy the beatific vision and all of our good works will be crowned with glory. The Assumption of Mary is Mary’s crowning glory, but it is also a promise to future generations. If we observe the word of God, we too will be raised from the dead. Mary’s feast offers us hope that we will join our creator, redeemer and sanctifier in paradise for all eternity.
– Richard DeMolen is pastor at Our Lady of Tahoe Catholic Church.