Twelve days before I was born, Pope Pius XII issued an apostolic constitution entitled Munficentissimus Deus defining the Dogma of the Assumption. “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a revealed dogma that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
Although this was only 70 years ago, as early as the fifth century the Christians of the East were already celebrating a feast called “The Memorial of Mary.” This came to be known as the koimesis (Greek) or dormition (Latin) that is, the falling asleep of the Virgin Mary. This expressed the deep faith of the early Christians of the Resurrection of the Body which falls asleep at death.
Last year Archbishop José Horacio Gómez of Los Angeles said in his homily for the feast “We celebrate the great hope that each one of us has in Jesus Christ. We celebrate the feast of Mary assumed into heaven. This is the goal of our lives. Heaven is our destiny. God made us to go to heaven. So, in a sense we are reflecting today on the meaning of our life. Where the Blessed Virgin Mary has gone, we can follow. Our Blessed Lady was the first to be received into heaven, but she was not the last.”
The Assumption points to what God will do for us. As it says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church “In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. All the dead will rise, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgement.” So we believe that our whole person, body and soul, will rise be raised again to a new existence. Faith in the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven can make our faith in our resurrection both stronger and more active.
The way we prepare for heaven is by living a life in the spirit of Mary’s prayer of the Magnificat. Father Denis McBride in his reflection on this Sunday’s gospel of Mary’s visitation says “that her song gives every Christian hope in the growing struggle of everyday life. She is a woman of the people whose song delights in God’s choice of her, whose spirit soars because God has not overlooked this lowly handmaid. But she is also a dangerous woman because she is the one who voices the subversive hope of the poor and the little ones”