The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pearl of the Human Race, celebrates the crowning achievement of a life well-lived—the most well-lived life, in fact. It is obviously more than this complimentary recognition offers, but it can’t be less than that.
What more shall we add?
The Assumption, in its glorious splendor, speaks of the divine moment of apocalyptic transgression. In other words, it is at this touching of divinity to the edifice of the world—a cosmic opening—in which human flesh, as it always should have been, is caught up into the glory of God’s kingdom to the utmost—in the most immediate way conceivable. Marian flesh.
Mary’s glory today far exceeds the glory of her beatitude on earth: The Assumption itself has begun to fulfill the Thesalonikan prophecy of the faithful being “caught up together…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Mary is caught up into the clouds to meet her son and worship him. Mary the Mother of God is the mother of all men and women, and her active intercession achieves the superabundant outpouring of the meritorious grace of Jesus Christ for the church today.
It behooves me to mention that many would not concur with this assessment. Alas. The second entrance antiphon for mass (during the day) on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary reads, “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, / as we celebrate the feast day in honor of the Virgin Mary, / at whose Assumption the Angels rejoice / and praise the Son of God.” And yet, having had an evangelical Reformed Presbyterian background, this word was alien to me. Assumption? I thought to myself while I was going through RCIA, I know that Catholics tend to assume quite a great deal about Mary, but what could this be? Why would it matter? Isn’t Christianity supposed to be about Jesus?
The drama of the Assumption is perhaps the most Christocentric event in Christian tradition. It captures, in its fullness, the drama of the relationship between God and man, between Christ and his people, between Virgin and Lord, and between the New Adam and the New Eve.
Moreover, it is the fulfillment of the pledge initiated at Cana. This pledge saw the unfolding of Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2:35: “even a sword shall go through thine own soul,” i.e. the heart of Mary would be pierced. As she was raised into the heavens, her flesh reverberated with the torturous memory of the Johannine representation of mother and child with shared destiny of suffering, a lachrymose covenant for the redemption of the world.
I use the word “torturous,” by no means to endorse the grotesque and inelegant Protestant interpretation. To call it an interpretation, even, is a generous concession for what is in reality, to the Greek of John 2:4, a blithe parsing. In an especially vapid case, found in the NIV, we find, “‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’” How exactly one turns “[καὶ] λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι; οὔπω ἥκει ἡ ὥρα μου”—literally, from the YLT, “Jesus saith to her, ‘What—to me and to thee, woman? not yet is mine hour come,’” into “Why do you involve me?” escapes my comprehension.
In this remarkable passage, as the Venerable Fulton Sheen has argued, John’s Jesus invokes the archetypical womanhood of Mary as the New Eve. Mary is the woman. Jesus affirms her role in undoing our devastated humanity in the Garden by affirming her role as the New Eve. Moreover, the Lord makes a startling claim about the dignity of Mary’s personhood and her role in the narrative arc of cosmic salvation as Coredemptrix and Mediatrix. What is true about Christ is also just as true of the Virgin. Only Mary could confess that she, in the purest way, was truly of the flesh of the Son of Man.
But more than an honor, this gesture was also Christ’s charge to Mary to remember Simeon’s prophecy at the Presentation. To clarify: if Jesus was to begin his public ministry by turning water into wine, he would begin with the first step on the road to Calvary, and Mary would be intimately and irreversibly tied to the suffering, sacred heart of the Lord. In this “second Yes,” following the Annunciation, Mary gives her consent once more in her confession: “His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.”
How much she suffered, our Mother. The holy suffering of the Virgin can be a great source of inspiration for our own struggles to persevere in light of such profound discouragement to which modernity is heir. Ultimately, a reflection on the torturous pain shared between mother and son is another way to call for the renewal and reinvigoration of the Catholic imagination concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary. What is even more significant for the church, however, is the promise of new life that the Assumption offers us. Mary is brought to the fullness of glory in Paradise where she continues her ministry to the world. She was raised to newness of life—God has promised the same for all of his children, indeed, for all of the world.
“Ever-blessed Virgin Mary, thou my most beloved Mother, at the beginning of this day I salute thee with heart-felt love and reverence and recommend myself, my body and soul, to thy maternal fidelity and to thy special protection to-day and at every hour, especially at the hour of my death. To thee be confided all my actions and omissions, my necessities and poverty, my life and death, that through thy holy intercession and merits, all the circumstances of my life may be guided, and all my good works well ordered according to thy good pleasure and that of thy divine son. Amen.”From an 1882 printing of the St. Gertrude Manual (or Spirit of Devotion)
This post is dedicated to my good friends, John Ladouceur, Rick Yoder, and Ron Belgau, for aiding in my journey home to the Catholic Church.