A Preview of our Future Glory – The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – August 15th

In the year 1950, with the world past beyond the deaths of World World II and rejoicing in the victory against evil, Pope Pius XII promulgated this joyful message:

“…For the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son – the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely 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.”

As Pope Pius detailed in the decree in which he proclaimed this dogma, the Church’s belief in Mary’s Assumption into Heaven is not something new. This is evidenced by the fact that no Church in East or West claims to have her body. You can find purported (and quite probable) relics of St. Peter or St. Paul, but you will encounter no bones of St. Mary. This is because Christians everywhere believed that her body no longer remained to be found anywhere on earth.

Some people say Catholics honor Mary too much, but this is an unfounded concern. Whatever we celebrate about Mary at the same time points to and glorifies her Son. The Lord’s Ark of the Covenant, his throne, and his mother are celebrated and glorious; but the One whom the ark, the throne, and the mother bear is greater still. While the mysteries of Mary point to and glorify Jesus, the mystery of Mary’s Assumption particularly points to our future glory in Christ.

For example, as I mentioned before, Mary’s body is no longer to be found on earth. In times past and present, some have doubted whether the bodily resurrection of the dead extends beyond Jesus from his tomb. Mary in her glory is not a disembodied spirit, but united in her body and soul. This is the future destined for our bodies as well. That is why we do not treat dead bodies as trash, like dirt swept up from the floor to be thrown outside to the wind. We reverence the bodies of the dead because those bodies will rise again.

We know more about Mary after her Assumption through the Church-approved apparitions of her; such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, and other appearances. While we are not bound to believe in these apparitions, the Church – having investigated them thoroughly – has judged them to be true and worthy of belief. These apparitions indicate that Mary has been globe-traveling for nearly two thousand years.

The dogma of Mary’s Assumption leaves open the question of whether Mary ever actually died. There are traditions on both sides of the question, and Pope Pius XII merely proclaimed that she assumed after “having completed the course of her earthly life.” But in either case, whether she died or not, Mary now clearly shares in her Son’s victory over death. Death no longer has any power over her, and this will be true for all of us who rise in Christ.

A detail that seers of Mary’s apparitions agree on is that she is now exceedingly beautiful. During the years of her life on earth, Mary might not have been the most beautiful woman alive. We do not imagine that Jesus had to be the tallest or most muscular man who has ever lived, so likewise Mary need not have lived as history’s most beautiful woman either. If she had been that physically beautiful, I can easily imagine it impeding her God-given mission. But regardless, now there is no mismatch between Mary’s inner and outer beauty. This inner beauty is called holiness. Sometimes in this world the holy can look quite plain or even ugly, while the wicked can look very attractive. But after the resurrection, the abundance (or lack) of holiness we have cultivated within will be seen in our endless beauty (or ugliness) forever.

It seems that Mary, in her now-glorified body, can change aspects of her appearance. For instance, in her apparition to St. Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531 she had darker skin and black hair, like the Native Americans. But at her first Church-approved apparition in the United States, to the Belgian-immigrant Adele Brise in 1859 here in Wisconsin near Green Bay, Mary had white skin and blonde hair. And on these occasions she did not speak to them in her own original language, in Hebrew or Aramaic, but in the familiar languages of those she was speaking to. She chose to look and speak this way to them because she is their spiritual mother. And she is our mother, too.

Mary may change her hair color, skin color, and age because these are relatively unimportant details of our person; but interestingly, she never appears as a different sex. She has never appeared as a bearded man declaring, “I am the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus.” God has created Mary as a female, just as the body he created for Jesus is forever male. God made them male and female, and what God has created is very good.

In none of her apparitions has Mary ever said, “I appreciate the sentiment, I really do, but could you please let up on all the prayers? I can’t keep up with all your Hail Marys!” Just imagine having an email account with an inbox receiving a billion new messages every day. For us this would be overwhelming, but Mary’s capacity to hear, and know, and act has been heightened in her glorified state. She hears you, she knows you, and she loves you personally. This foreshadows our life in the Kingdom to come. How many close friends can a person have? Five, ten, maybe twenty? But in Heaven we will have more than a billion such friends, and the capacity to profoundly know them all and to intensely love them all will be within our ability. The practice of love in this life is a preparation for that endless day.

What is Mary’s mission after her Assumption? It’s not that different from the Visitation we hear about in today’s Gospel. Mary encounters her extended family member, Elizabeth, and comes to serve her in love, for Elizabeth is up in age and pregnant with her first child. And Mary does not come alone, but with Jesus within her, and she helps to make him known. And then Mary and Elizabeth praise and rejoice in God together: “the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name!” That is what she’s doing in her apparitions. And even after the Resurrection, that will continue to be her mission and ours; to encounter and love and serve our family in Christ, to praise and glorify God, and to rejoice with Christ and each other forever.

In conclusion, Mary’s Assumption points to our own bodily resurrection. Her beauty encourages us to pursue the beauty of holiness. She is our mother, and as long as we have God as our Father we will be their son or daughter forever. Mary knows and loves each one of us, helping us to grow in love. And her mission is our mission; to encounter and serve others, to walk with Jesus Christ, and to praise and rejoice in God. All of the mysteries of Mary point to and glorify Jesus, but the mystery of Mary’s Assumption particularly points to our future glory in Christ.

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