The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
A gift from two popes to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception offers a reminder of a gift from God which we should all seek. Near the main altar of the Basilica, pilgrims can see a dramatic mosaic depicting the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The artwork, patterned after the masterpiece by the Renaissance painter Titian, was commissioned by Pope Pius XII, with the finished piece given to our national shrine of our Blessed Mother by Pope Saint John XXIII in 1960.
In the Assumption mosaic, Mary’s arms are outstretched as her eyes gaze in wonder toward heaven. Against a backdrop of golden light, she stands gracefully on clouds, her blue mantle swirling, as winged cherubim gently push the cloud bank upward, helping Mary be assumed body and soul into heaven.
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we celebrate tomorrow, August 15, commemorates the dogma of faith 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 pronounced by Pope Pius XII (Munificentissimus Deus, 44). We also prayerfully remember Mary’s Assumption into heaven every time we pray the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not a holy day of obligation this year, since it falls on a Saturday, but it is still a day to reflect on Mary’s role in salvation. All the Marian feasts are feasts of Jesus Christ because she is always near her Son and always leads us to him. As Jesus’ first and greatest disciple, she held him in her arms at the stable in Bethlehem, witnessed his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, wept at the foot of the Cross where Jesus commended her to us as our mother too, rejoiced at his resurrection, and was with the Apostles in the Upper Room at the first Pentecost as the wind of the Holy Spirit swept over them, empowering them to continue Jesus’ work through his Church.
Mary was near her Son Jesus when she walked on earth and she is near him now in heaven. Pope Francis affirms that Mary, having entered into heavenly glory, continues also to accompany today’s disciples, helping them to follow Jesus and resist evil, just as she was beside the Apostles in her earthly life. He invites us to pray with Mary, and place our trust in her: “She is our Mother, but we can also say that she is our representative, our sister, our eldest sister, she is the first of the redeemed, who has arrived in heaven” (Homily of August 15, 2013).
Our Holy Father notes that Mary’s eventual Assumption to the glory of heaven started when she said “yes” to God’s plan revealed to her by the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Likewise, while our own personal redemption will not happen in a definitive way until our earthly pilgrimage has ended, it can begin now. “Every ‘yes’ to God is a step toward heaven, toward eternal life,” says Pope Francis. “God wants us all with him, in his house” (Angelus of August 15, 2013).
Last year, at the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Southeast D.C., I dedicated the new Pope Francis Outreach Center. This outreach with food and clothing for that neighborhood’s poor people, rooted in prayer and friendship, which reflects the spirit of our Holy Father, is also a reminder that, like Mary, we can attain the glory of heaven by being close to Jesus, helping him in his work here on earth, and sharing his love and hope with our brothers and sisters, especially the poor and those on the margins of society. Each of us can engage in a similar outreach with the Walk with Francis Pledge, in which, like Mary, we say “yes” to God by praying, serving and take action on behalf of those in need, just as the Pope has ever since he first stepped out onto the balcony overlooking Saint Peter’s Square.
The mosaic at the Basilica depicting the beauty and glory of Mary’s Assumption into heaven should inspire us. While the graces of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption are unique to the Blessed Virgin, as our Holy Father reminds us, the journey to heaven is one which God wants all of us to embark upon (Angelus of August 15, 2013). It begins by saying “yes” to God and then walking with Mary and Pope Francis and the entire pilgrim Church, close to our Lord Jesus, each and every day.