Mary's Assumption into Heaven
Fr Jeremy Driscoll, OSB*
Christ fully associates his Mother to his heavenly-bodily glory
At her death, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed body and soul into heaven. This could happen, did happen, and indeed, had to happen because Jesus himself is risen from the dead in his human body. The Eternal Father did not allow his faithful Son to undergo corruption. This Jesus who was crucified — God has raised him up and exalted him at his right hand in glory. (cf. Acts 2:22-36) And so it was fitting, indeed necessary, that the divine Son should in the first place associate with himself in glory the woman from whom he took his human soul and body as the instruments of our salvation.
To penetrate this far into the ramifications of the Lord's resurrection from the dead, we have need of a divine revelation and the most intense kind of poetry. And we have these in the scriptures which are proclaimed in our midst this morning. Indeed, the very hearing of these is the feast! In them is revealed the dogma of the Assumption — not as something in addition to scripture but as the scripture's deepest sense, discerned inside our very celebration. "Behold, the temple of God in heaven opened, and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it", the sacred text says. But peering more deeply into the heavens, with the help of the apostolic seer, we see that the Ark of the Covenant is not the wooden box carried by historical Israel as a portable shrine. That was only a shadow of the good things to come. (Heb 10:1) Now the ark is a great sign appearing in the heavens: "a woman,adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with twelve stars on her head for a crown". This is the definitive ark of the covenant in its definitive condition: it is Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, assumed body and soul into heaven.
This is the same mystery, expressed in a different kind of language, that the apostle Paul announced in the second reading. Christ's resurrection is concerned not only, and not even primarily, with himself and his own condition after death. His death and resurrection are for our sake. "Christ raised from the dead is the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep.... Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be brought to life". And, the apostle specifies, there is an order to this resurrection: "all of them in their proper order", he says; "Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him". In Mary we see the next in order of what is to be extended to all those who belong to Christ. She who extended to the eternal divine Word her own body so that he could take flesh from her — she now has extended to her body all the divine glory that filled the dead body of Jesus and raised it from the dead, seating him at the right hand of the Father.
The Book of Revelation unveils for us the mystery that the historical ark of the covenant in the religion of Israel is only a shadow of the definitive ark of the covenant which is Mary assumed into heaven. But this clue to the deepest meaning of the ark lets us see that all the details of history which involved the ark were pointing ahead to what is celebrated in heaven today.
(cf. 1 Chron 15 and 16.) That David brings the ark to Jerusalem is an image of the definitive Son of David, Christ our Lord, bringing his mother to the heavenly Jerusalem. That David directs that various instruments of music, harps and lyres should play joyful tunes as the ark ascends is an image of the King of Angels arranging the angelic choirs for the reception of his mother into the heavenly courts as Queen of the Angels. That David dances with abandon before the ark as it is brought up is the foreshadowing of the stunning scene of the eternal Son dancing before his mother as he brings her body and soul into his glorified presence.
To fix our minds and hearts on such heavenly scenes is the gift of today's feast, a feast whereby we enter somehow already into the future in which we too are destined to share. This future nourishes our hope with a divine influx whose expectations we could never hope to fashion by our own efforts and of our own imaginings. This hope comes from God. But if through today's feast we already participate in our future, the inspired scripture nonetheless does not let us forget that we are not yet entirely arrived in that future. Indeed, the present moment is a dramatic crossroads for us. For the visions of revelation likewise disclose to us that this glorious woman is also in labor, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth and that a "huge red dragon" is ready to devour her child. We sense, under the force of the poetry and inside the meaning of this feast, that such a scene somehow describes also the present reality of the Church:
Satan hates the Church and would destroy, if he could, all that the Church labors to give birth to, all the ways in which Christ continues to come into the world through the birth pangs of Mother Church, whose image Mary is. Precisely because the present moment is so dreadful and terrifying for the Church do we need this sure instruction of the ultimate outcome of today's battles. "The woman escaped into the desert, where God had made a place of safety ready. Then I heard a voice from heaven shout, 'Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Anointed One'".
The images from the Book of Revelation are dizzying, and we cannot sustain them for long. They are precisely what the text tells them to be: glimpses into heaven from the vantage point of the earthly liturgy. (Rev 1:10) But today's gospel deals with all the same images in a way that is much easier for us to sustain. Pregnant with the Word, the ark of the covenant, Mary, hurries into the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with the one who will announce the presence of the Word. John the Baptist dances before the ark from his mother's womb and causes to rise up from Elizabeth's heart and mouth words which — yes, describe exactly that moment, but words which shall also expand in their meaning from that day forward all the way through to today's feast. Already on that day of the Visitation it was true that Mary was blessed among women and blessed was the fruit of her womb, Jesus. But how much truer are these words today when we see that the fruit of Mary's womb is nothing less than her Son crucified, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven; and that she is blessed among all women because he associates her entirely with himself in the divine glory in which he is definitively established.
Mary assumed into heaven is the image of the future God intends for us. The risen Lord extends the glory of his risen body to her who extended to him her own body. In this eucharist Christ wishes to receive from us the gift of our own bodies as a spiritual sacrifice (Rom 12:1), even as he extends to us the glory of his risen body. He says it quite explicitly, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood shall live forever, and I will raise him up on the last day". It is shocking to hear it, but we must go this far if we are to be faithful to the full meaning of today's feast. The Son of David, Christ our Lord, is waiting and greatly desires to dance before us as well when we are brought into heaven. He will direct angels to sing and play music at our arrival. Mary our Mother labors and cries aloud in intercession for us as the image of her Son is brought to completion in the Church. Ah yes, indeed, her song will be the song of us all in heaven: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my Savior; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name".
*Priest, monk of Mount Angel Abbey, Oregon, USA; teaches theology at Mount Angel Seminary and at the Pontifical University of St Anselm, Rome
Weekly Edition in English
11 August 2010, page 8
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:
The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
880 Park Avenue
P.O. Box 777
Baltimore, MD 21203
Phone: (443) 263-0248
Fax: (443) 524-3155