If you want to know what awaits us in heaven, look to Mary; she will give you a glimpse of the things to which all Christians aspire – a profound union with the Lord and a share in His life for all eternity. Today we celebrate her most important feast day, the Assumption – when Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life.1
Whenever we confront one of these great mysteries of our faith, we are tempted to look for some way to help make sense of it, however silly or far-fetched that may be. I couldn’t help imagining Mary caught in a tractor beam, saying, “Beam me up, Jesus!” Yet from antiquity, the Early Church Fathers and the entire Christian faithful have held this as a tenet of our faith. It is part of that uninterrupted Tradition passed down over the ages, though it only became part of the official teaching of the Church in 1950.2
While there is considerable debate as to whether Mary actually died or not,3 the earliest tradition speaks of her “dormition,” or falling asleep. An image that might help us understand this mystery is that of a plant going dormant in winter, waiting to be “resurrected” in the springtime. Regardless of how it happened, we know that the end of Mary’s life was considerably different than ours will be.
So why would Mary not experience death like the rest of us? Many things concerning Mary defy normal human experience because, in a sense, her “substance” is different. She is perfect. We are forever affected and influenced by sin, but Mary is not. You may have heard of saints whose bodies were found to be incorrupt – preserved from decay and spared some of the effects of death. In that sense, Mary experienced this phenomenon to an even greater degree. She was preserved in every way – from original sin, from personal sin, and from death itself, which is really just the end result of the presence of sin in our world. Had there been no fall from grace, there would have been no death. But in His goodness, God had an incredible plan to redeem and restore mankind – His Son, Jesus.
The other question that invariably comes up in this regard is, “If Mary was perfect, why did she need a Saviour?” The short answer is that Mary did need Jesus. His birth, death, and Resurrection are what allowed her to be preserved from sin in the first place. I know what you’re thinking – it’s so confusing! She gave birth to Jesus, yet she needed Him in order to even be worthy to be His mother. It’s sort of like the chicken and the egg question – we seem to get stuck in which came first…our human minds can’t fully comprehend it. But Christ precedes us in everything. He is God.
Mary’s Assumption demonstrates the new life to which we aspire – what we are offered when we say “yes” to God. We mustn’t assume that death is the end, even though it’s all we can see. Mary gives us a vision for the future – of eternity – that is nothing short of miraculous. One day, we also hope to share in Christ’s Resurrection and glory in heaven.
– Kelley Holy
1 Cf. CCC, 966.
2 The Sacred Heart, “Feasts of Mary”; available from http://www.thesacredheart.com/feastmar.htm; Internet; accessed 10 August 2013.
3 Scott P. Richert, “Did the Virgin Mary Die Before Her Assumption?”, About.com Catholicism; available from http://catholicism.about.com/od/beliefsteachings/f/Did-The-Virgin-Mary-Die.htm; Internet; accessed 10 August 2013.