THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY: GRACE TO BE LIKE MARY
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one great Feast that celebrates Christ’s victory over sin and death. The assumption is a holy day of obligation, which commemorates the Blessed Mother Mary taken up body and soul into heaven. Mary shows incorruptibility of the flesh through dedication to the will of God. The angel salutes her, “Hail, full of grace,” so, her mission is accomplished through consenting to God’s will.
The first reading presents an image of “the woman adorned with the Sun, with the moon under her feet, and whose head is crowned with twelve stars.” That image symbolizes God’s plan to defeat the devil through the birth of Christ. We read the scary story in Revelation, “the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.” (Rev. 12:4-5) From ancient times, the devil fights so hard against God’s people. The devil’s greatest antic is intimidation, so he threatens our faith. In his lifetime, Christ did battle for forty days and forty nights against the devil, then conquered the kingdom of evil and darkness forever.
The gospel narrates the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth following the annunciation. The greetings exchanged by Mary and Elizabeth reveal the mystery of the greatness of God, the mystery of the plan of salvation in Christ. God inspires Elizabeth to declare, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” Elizabeth’s final words to Mary reckon both Mary’s privilege and her faith, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk. 1:45). Elizabeth shows a supernatural joy in this encounter which orchestrates the distinctive character of the visit from the mother of the Lord. The child in her womb dances in excitement too.
The fruit of Mary’s response is the Magnificat which today, has become a popular hymn, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” God’s graces confer such compelling greatness on her. In the Magnificat, Mary pours out her appreciation by recounting God’s basic attributes- faithfulness, justice, love, power, joy, and compassion for the lowly. Mary’s humility attracts God’s favor and for that, she is lifted above all creatures. Today, the church celebrates Mary’s Queenship, her glorious assumption. She is the Queen of Angels.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary reinforces the power of life over death and reminds that grace is crucial in the battle against evil. Enemies of the faith confront our efforts to make heaven, wrestle to devour us, or at worst to take away what is dear to us. Peter warns, “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). The battle with the devil is real.
What we see today in Mary’s rising body and soul into heaven is a foretaste of what we will also do. Jesus reigns in heaven in his physical, glorified body, not as spirit only. At the end of the world, the human souls in heaven will be joined to their bodies, so too the souls in hell will also be joined to their bodies for all eternity. The souls and bodies of the elect will be perfect in heaven and there will be no handicaps, physical deformities, or sickness. We will be perfect, the way God always intended for us. Everything He creates is good. Mary was created like Adam and Eve before the fall, that is she was created perfectly without the stain of original sin, which is the way God wanted us all to be. Mary had a choice like Eve to sin or not, but she chose not to sin which is why Mary is often referred to as the new Eve. She accomplished what Eve failed to do and she is "full of grace." However, Mary, like us, also needed a savior. The difference is that Jesus saved her before she ever sinned. Elizabeth rightly echoes that, "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk. 1:43) Mary is the mother of Jesus who is her savior. Think about it in the image of a lifeguard at a swimming pool. He can catch the person before they fall in and save their life, or he can rescue them from the water after they fall into the pool. The person is rescued in both instances. Mary is rescued before she fell but she still needed the rescuer. We are rescued after falling in.
The reason Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin is that while God loves the sinner, sin causes Him a kind of horror. Sin is opposed to God so He could only come to earth through a pure, sinless channel, to save sinners. Because she never sinned, she never inherited the punishment due to sin: death and corruption of the body. Theologians have spilled much ink wrestling with whether Mary actually died or was taken straight to heaven. Conventional wisdom says that she followed Jesus and died as He did.
And so, she is raised body and soul into heaven. She does first what we shall all do. We will also (please God) be reunited with our physical bodies in heaven. The devil would absolutely hate Mary as depicted in the dragon’s hate for the woman in labor. Lucifer was once one of the highest-ranking angels in heaven before he rebelled. His name means light bearer. He cannot believe that this little girl, this humble handmaid has so greatly surpassed him. Mary, the meek, little Jewish girl has reached the highest place in heaven for creatures. She is God’s highest created being, above all created beings. Lucifer flies into fits hearing Mother of God, Mother of Christ, Mother of Divine Grace, Mother Inviolate, Virgin Most Powerful, Virgin Most Faithful, Queen of Angels, Queen of Saints. This is recited in the Litany of Loretto.
The devil battles constantly to pull God’s community down. Sometimes, the devil fights us from within and makes believers pitch against each other. The devil instigates church members against the teachings of the faith and matters of life. In some cases, the devil makes church leaders hate the Blessed Mother. The devil knows that by getting the leaders of the church, he will get to the members. The devil pushes to snatch away what is crucial to us. Sometimes, he silences and discourages church leaders. The devil desires to pull down the Church. The devil attacks God’s love represented in institutions such as marriage, priesthood, the Eucharist, etc. The dragon of secularism will always fight hard to pull down messengers of the gospel, those who stand for the truth. The battle with the devil is real.