St. Elizabeth’s words to the Virgin Mary, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” have been proclaimed by the Catholic Church from the first moment of Christianity until the present moment. They celebrate a life of total union with God in mind and in will – echoed in her words to the Angel Gabriel: “Be it done unto me according to thy will.”
Today’s Feast of the Assumption is summarized in the words of Pope Pius XII when he declared: “Mary, the immaculate and perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven.” Mary is now where we hope one day to be. She is there in a remarkable way. Because she did not sin, her body, like the body of Jesus, didn’t suffer the corruption of the grave. It went directly from an earthly state into a heavenly state, without passing through decay.
We do not know exactly how long Mary lived and where she spent the rest of her life after the death of Jesus her son, but her contemporaries kept alive the memory of some of the details of her death and assumption. People from an Eastern background are exceptionally faithful to family traditions which they treasure and carefully, commit to memory.
The traditions and stories are handed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth and tell and sometimes in writing. The history of the death and Assumption of Mary was handed down from one generation to the next in this way. Eastern writers and Fathers of the Eastern Church have taught that Mary lived and later died in Jerusalem. Bishop Meliton who was a Palestinian Bishop from the fourth century, related in writing – a long story which existed in his diocese – a story that had been told by Peter, James, and John to their followers and successors.
The story relates the fact that the Apostles, with the exception of St. Thomas, were all present at the death of Mary. Thomas arrived in Jerusalem three days later, after her body had been buried in a tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the Apostles took Thomas to the site of the burial, he asked that her tomb be opened so that he could view her body for the last time.
When the tomb was opened, they found only a heap of flowers in her coffin. An angel told them of her assumption at the hands of her Son. His tradition was verified about 40 years ago when what appears to have been Mary’s tomb was discovered in Jerusalem under the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God.
We might be tempted to ask ourselves why the doctrine of the Assumption is so important. In our times, there is an erosion of reverence for human life, and for the sacredness of the against this mindset, the Feast of the Assumption tells us that the human body is destined for an eternal resurrection. Mary is the sign of what will happen to all of us. Her Assumption tells us that our bodies are sacred and that we must reverence them. On this Solemnity of the Assumption, we should renew our commitment to, and reverence for all human life: the life of the unborn, the life of the terminally ill, the life of those who are tormented by suffering, the life of the elderly. All these are precious – all are destined to share eternal life in the glory of the resurrection, just as Mary did.
Mary’s life on earth ended just as ours will end; but as her life ended, her risen life began. The doctrine of the Assumption tells us that at the end of her life, Mary was taken to heaven body, and soul. She is fully glorified as we will be. We can expect the same for ourselves and our loved ones, if, like Mary, we do our best to “listen to the Word of God and keep it.”