Throwback Thursday: The Bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
One of the most beautiful and popular themes of sacred art is that of the Madonna and Child, depicting Mary holding the Infant Jesus in her arms. A less known image but equally beautiful and touching is the scene, often included in the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin, which shows the Risen Jesus holding the infant Mary in his loving arms. This portrays the ancient belief of the Church that, at the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed into heaven in the entirety of her being – it was not merely her spirit that went to heaven with her body remaining behind, but she was bodily assumed into the arms of the Lord as well (see Munificentissimus Deus).
In this way, unlike the rest of the faithful, who must wait until the last judgment for the resurrection of the body, Mary knew immediately the redemption of her body, avoiding the corruption of the grave and enjoying at once the heavenly glory of eternal life with God. Because of her assumption, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said, not only the entire world, but even “the heavenly fatherland shines more brightly because it is illumined by the glow of her virginal lamp” (J. Pelikan, Mary Through the Centuries, p. 206). The Assumption thus illuminates the way for the rest of us to follow on the journey of faith (cf. Lumen Fidei, 1, 4)
This image of the Lord holding the infant Mary also calls to mind the words that the poet Dante places on the lips of Saint Bernard, “see the face that is most like Christ’s” and “Virgin mother, daughter of your Son” (Paradiso XXXII and XXXIII). This sheds light on why it is fitting and proper that Mary should be assumed into heaven, body as well as soul. The Virgin Mary has a special relationship with Jesus – they are wholly united with each other. She is the living Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of God. Thus, where he dwells, so must she also be.
Moreover, Jesus is not just any man – in his incarnation, his body is derived entirely of her body – bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh. Accordingly, “St. Germanus I of Constantinople (†730) puts these words on Jesus’ lips as he prepares to take his Mother to heaven: ‘You must be where I am, Mother inseparable from your Son’” (Pope John Paul II, General Audience of July 9, 1997).
Although, like the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption was a unique privilege for Mary, it is not something which is irrelevant to us personally. Rather, the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mother of God is linked with our own hope of the resurrection of the body and the life to come. “Because of her close bond with Jesus, Mary is strictly connected to what we believe” (Lumen Fidei, 59). She is the sign to us of the fulfillment of the great promise in Christ proclaimed by his Church – just as all have died in Adam, so all who place their faith in Jesus and live according to his Gospel will have every tear wiped from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain because he makes all things new (Revelation 21:4-5).
The Assumption, which invites us to look forward to this new life, reveals the nobility, dignity, and supernatural destiny of every human body, called by the Lord to become an instrument of holiness and to share in his glory, not only in the next life, but in this one as well. As the model for us of the incorruptible body in the resurrection unto new life, so Mary is also the model to us of how we continue in this world to make our way to God’s eternal kingdom driven by faith, enriched by love, and always open to the power of God’s Holy Spirit.