The human body is one of God’s most miraculous and wonderful creations. Each of us is fashioned in His image and likeness, but uniquely put together to glorify God in our physical being. St. Paul confirms this truth in his writings to the Corinthians. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:19-20) As good stewards of these beautiful gifts, we have a responsibility to properly care for, nourish, and love our bodies, then to offer them to God for His service. No one has given us a better example of bodily service than our Blessed Mother.
The Virgin Mary generously gave herself to God, and ultimately to all of mankind, when she agreed to carry Jesus in her womb. She did not consider her body her own, but instead God’s, trusting that he would use it for his promise of salvation. She offered Him her most precious physical gift, one in which many modern Christians aren’t willing to give God: her fertility. This courageous selflessness was a common theme in Mary’s life, time and again giving us an example of what it looks like to trust God completely and to “glorify God in (our) bod(ies).” Because of her human perfection, Catholics believe that Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. The Feast of the Assumption, celebrated on August 15th, honors this ancient belief.
While the Assumption of Mary is not recorded in the bible (and thus dismissed by Protestants), it is clear that the first Christians believed in her being taken, body and soul, into heaven. Writings of Christian theologians from as early as the third century point out that there aren’t any relics of Mary in existence. And Saint Gregory of Tour, who lived in the sixth century, provided a rationale for the tradition of the Assumption, which is related to her having been preserved from original sin. He said that it is inconceivable to think Mary’s sinless body, likened to the Ark of the Covenant which was made of incorruptible wood, should decay in the grave.
Although belief in the Assumption of Mary can be dated back to the early church, it has only recently been declared Catholic Dogma. On November 1, 1950, the Feast of All Saints, Pope Pius XII declared as a dogma revealed by God that “Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven.” Pope Pius XII left to interpretation whether or not “the completion of her earthly life” meant that Mary actually died and was then assumed into heaven, or if God brought her to heaven before she knew death here on earth. It is believed by most teachers of the faith that she did, in fact, experience bodily death, but many believe otherwise.
Either way, the Feast of the Assumption affirms and celebrates our belief that our Blessed Mother is in Heaven waiting for us to join her. She is guiding us now, just as she did with her example on earth, as we carry our daily crosses alongside her Son. Father Clifford Stevens describes the feast most beautifully: “The Assumption completes God’s work in her since it was not fitting that the flesh that had given life to God himself should ever undergo corruption. The Assumption is God’s crowning of His work as Mary ends her earthly life and enters eternity. The feast turns our eyes in that direction, where we will follow when our earthly life is over.”