The Second Vatican Council reminds us that Mary is a member of the Church who “occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and also closest to us.” (LG, #54) She is the first and the greatest of all the Disciples of Christ.
Our Lady of the Assumption is the Patroness of the United States as well as the Patroness of the Diocese of Trenton. When Pat and I went on pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to Italy, Portugal, Spain and France, we saw many images of Mary’s Assumption. In Israel, we even visited a room reported to be the place of Our Lady’s “Dormition’ or sleep. Earliest Christians believed that Mary did not die, but went to sleep and was taken up to heaven, body and soul.
Romans 6:23 tells us “The gift of God is eternal life. The wages of sin is death.”
Genesis describes the creation of Adam and Eve in the state of grace. They were living in total relationship with their Creator, walking and talking with God. There was neither sickness, nor death until they succumbed to the temptation of Satan and ate the forbidden fruit. Immediately, they recognized their sin and God removed them from the Garden. Sickness and death were part of the penalty for their sins. God also promised to send a Redeemer to reconcile their descendants to Him.
All of humanity is born with original sin, often falling into sin throughout our lives and we have suffered the effects of both sickness and death. Our faith teaches us that at our death we are judged for the way we lived our lives. Our souls will be taken to heaven, purgatory or hell, while our bodies will remain in the grave until they join our souls at the final judgment.
However, “in anticipation that she was to bear the Son of God, Mary was preserved from the time of her conception from original sin….No sin would touch her, so that she would be a fitting and worthy vessel of the son of God.” (CCC, #491) Mary lived a life dedicated exclusively to Christ, her Son, and to his mission. We know from scripture that in life Mary suffered the pains of loss and hardships despite her life of holiness.
In her Assumption, Mary experienced immediately what we will experience eventually, a bodily
resurrection like Christ’s own. “The Immaculate Virgin…when the course of her earthly life was finished,
was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so
that she be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of death.” (CCC, #966)
For centuries, this belief had been a beloved tradition of the faithful, but it hadn’t been defined by the Church as a revealed dogma until 1950, when Pope Pius XII declared Mary’s Assumption to be an official teaching of the Church. That declaration was the fruit of years of work as the Holy Spirit guided Church leaders and theologians to a deeper and clearer understanding of Mary’s role in the scriptures.