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August 20, 2012

The feast of Mary's Assumption, celebrated Aug. 15, is one of the most hopeful feasts of the liturgical year. In our archdiocese, it is the focus of pilgrimages at Skaro and St. Albert. Yet, perhaps we could do even more to celebrate this mid-summer feast with verve and joy.

Sometimes, the very event of Mary's bodily assumption into heaven is called into question, disparaged as "a blessed assumption" because it was not recorded in Scripture or celebrated in the earliest days of the Church.

Yet, Mary's being taken into heaven is a fitting fulfillment of both the Incarnation and Christ's resurrection. Because the Son of God became fully human, being born of Mary, it is appropriate that the flesh from whom Jesus drew his flesh should be taken into heaven, rather than suffer decay on earth, once Christ had ascended to the Father.

The Melkite Archbishop Joseph Raya once wrote that it would be an insult to the very person of Christ and a defeat of his work of redemption and divinization if Mary's body were allowed to suffer decay. This is not an extreme statement. For Christ came, not only to save disembodied souls, but to save the whole person - body, soul, mind and will.

Mary's motherhood of Jesus "acquired an all-pervading presence of God," Raya wrote. "Heaven was joined permanently to earth and earth became heaven."

The Church sees Mary as the New Eve, closely linked with the work of Christ the New Adam. If Jesus prepared a place in heaven for his apostles who preached the Good News, he certainly would have done the same for his mother who gave birth to it.

God did not force the Incarnation on Mary; she gave her assent with all of her being. Mary's fiat – her "let it be done unto me" – was her declaration of total solidarity with God's purpose. Hans Urs von Balthasar saw that "her word of assent will draw her back up to heaven in her totality."

For ordinary Christians, this is a message of great hope. Our celebration of Mary's Assumption does not treat her as God's equal, but rather sees her as the forerunner of the way that we will pass after our deaths. We need not worry about what will become of us if we live as Mary lived. Said Balthasar: "It will be God's business that we reach him, not as mere halves of ourselves, but as whole persons."

Our salvation has already begun. With Christ, we see where we are bound – to share in the life of the Trinity. With Mary's Assumption, we know with certainty that it is not Jesus alone who will be united with the Father. We will follow in her footsteps.

That is a message of unfathomable hope, one that eluded even the greatest philosophers who knew nothing of Jesus. The feast of the Assumption is a time for us to rejoice with all of our hearts.