In 1950, five years after the end of the carnage of the Second World War which had ruptured the peace of the world and during which millions of human beings made in the image and likeness of God had been consigned to oblivion and literally gone up in smoke Pope Pius XII promulgated the doctrine of the Assumption; a teaching about the value of an individual human life to the rest of humanity. He declared in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus that ‘the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, on completing the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.’ The human being who most reflected the splendour of her Son’s humanity and his obedient response to the Father’s will did not undergo separation from him. She who was at his side on the Way of the Cross and who accepted the role of Mother of the Church at the foot of the cross was called to his side in heavenly glory. An assumption is not an ascension. The only one to have ascended into heaven is Jesus. His ascension was an active movement Mary’s assumption is passive and in the nature of a gift. For her heavenly glory is not a place but an intensified relationship. She was taken up to be where Christ is. In her the Lord fulfills his promise to the Church ‘where I am you may be also.’ (Jn.14.3) Mary’s assumption is dependent upon the ascension of Jesus. In him our human nature is glorified and taken up into the communion of the Holy Trinity. We stand between the already and the not yet. We have redeemed but have not yet fully appropriated the fruits of that redemption won for us by Christ. We stand between the two worlds of time and eternity. We are still viatores, pilgrims on the way. The process of transformation and transfiguration which is promised to us and which even now is continuing in the Church is achieved in the Mother of God. She is no longer on the way. She is a pilgrim no longer.
The key to the celebration of this feast is relationship. Mary is related to her Son through the grace of election and purity which she enjoyed from the first moment of her creation. Being without sin the relationship of obedient love was never broken. She also enjoyed the relationship of maternity. He grew in her womb, they shared a common life. They were of ‘one flesh’ not simply in virtue of his being the Second Adam but in virtue of her maternity. It is this flesh, the total bodily reality of the Incarnate Word which ascends to heavenly glory. At the end of her earthly life it is this body in which the redeemer of the world was welcomed and nurtured which is re-united with the glorified Christ.
The resurrection of Christ is not simply an isolated event in the chain of events of his biography it is the achievement and disclosure in him of the Father’s purpose. The gift he has won for us, eternal life, is precisely for all of us, for the whole of humankind. In Mary, the most perfect representative of those who hear the Word of God and do it we see our own destiny revealed.