How the Virgin Mary’s Fiat is a Roadmap for the Christian Life
The feast of the Assumption of Mary, celebrated by the Catholic Church on August 15th, provides us with an opportunity to consider the role of Mary in the life of the Church. In our everyday lives, it can be easy for us to forget how deeply honored Mary is by her Son, and thus how greatly she should be honored by those of us in the Church. Thinking about Mary and her life, her fiat and her devotion to the Lord prompts us to consider how we can become truly virtuous.
Mary’s complete surrender of her life to God shows us that we, even in the smallest respects, should always work to conform ourselves to the will of God. Even as we encounter situations that may present us with great difficulties, we should always work to emulate Mary by repeating the words she spoke at the Annunciation: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” She lived her life repeating this fiat, and ultimately her Assumption into heaven, body and soul, is a reflection of how meaningful this was.
Theology of the Assumption
The Catholic Church recognizes the incredible help that Mary is to the Church, and in efforts to honor her and increase the faithful’s devotion to her, celebrates her in a multitude of ways throughout the liturgical year. The feast of the Assumption is one of the most prominent of these feasts, which leads us to consider the significance of the event.
The Assumption of Mary was declared a dogma by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950. In the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, or The Most Bountiful God, he wrote:
“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
Although the Eastern Rites and certain Mariologists refer to the Assumption as the Dormition (or Falling Asleep) of the Blessed Mother, whether Mary died or not before she was assumed into heaven has not been dogmatically defined. Many Mariologists also believe that (whether she died or not) Mary was surrounded by angels and all the apostles at the time of her departure from earth, and was taken up into heaven by Christ Himself. Considering this image helps us to understand the immense love that Christ has for His Mother, and shows us that as members of the Church, we should do our best to hold Mary in similar esteem.
The Humble Shall Be Exalted
Throughout Scripture, the virtue of humility is paradoxically lauded as one of the most fundamentally important Christian virtues. When we consider the stories of salvation history, we are struck by the presence of the vice of pride, especially in the book of Genesis. Pride is what compelled Adam and Eve to disobey God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Even more primarily, pride is what compelled Lucifer to challenge God and thus fall from heaven. And throughout the rest of Scripture, pride rears its head time and again and convinces men to separate themselves from God at the cost of eternal life.
Mary’s life stands in stark contrast to these stories of pride and disobedience. Her life was lived in utter humility and trust in the will of God. Although the Gospels do not go into great detail about her life, every time she speaks, her words convey a sense of great humility and absolute surrender to God. It is this surrender and this humility that gives Mary such an honored place in the Church. Mary’s Assumption shows us that this honor is just and well-deserved, since she was so beloved by Christ that He chose to allow her to be present in heaven in the same manner in which He Himself was: body and soul.
“Death Is Swallowed Up in Victory”
Thinking about this helps us understand how Mary can be known as the New Eve. When we think about the actions of Eve in the Garden of Eden, it is evident that Eve acts selfishly, disobediently and with great pride. In doing so, she loses her place in the Garden. The Assumption of Mary can be seen as the inverse of the fall of Eve. Whereas Eve’s vices led her to lose her place in the Garden of Eden, Mary’s virtues led her to gain her place, body and soul, next to her Son in heaven. Mary’s selflessness, obedience and humility were the means by which she gained eternal life with her Son.
Mary’s Assumption thus gives us great hope that we ourselves will be able to enjoy eternal life if we live according to God’s will and commandments with humility and trust. Her presence in heaven in body and soul is, as it is written in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.” Thinking about the Assumption in this way shows us the truth of the promises of God and helps us understand the meaning of the Resurrection. By His Resurrection, Christ not only overcame death for Himself but also overcame death for all mankind. Mary’s presence in heaven in body and soul shows us the reality of Christ’s victory over death and gives us hope for our own resurrection after death.
Modeling Our Lives After Mary’s
The Assumption of Mary ultimately gives us several beautiful insights into how we may best live our lives as Catholics. Several virtues were especially prominent in Mary’s life: obedience to the will of God, trust that the Lord would sustain her during difficult times, and intense humility. Knowing that Mary possessed all of these virtues also shows us how she possessed the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. In Mary’s faith, she surrendered herself to the will of God even as a young girl, and spoke her fiat knowing that the will of God was best. In Mary’s hope, she was able to endure the unspeakable sorrow of witnessing her beloved Son undergo the torment of His Passion and Crucifixion, trusting in hope that the Son of God would not be overcome by death. And in Mary’s love, she gave herself completely to the will of God, even in her body as she lovingly carried Christ in her womb and raised him as her Son. Her total gift of self shows us the meaning of humility: setting ourselves aside so that God may be glorified.
In all of these things, we see that Mary’s Assumption is an extraordinarily well-deserved gift that was given to her by Christ Himself. Although Mary never acted with the expectation of this gift, she persevered in her life of virtue. Knowing about Mary in the context of her Assumption gives us a model by which we may live our lives with the hope of gaining eternal life. Like Mary, may we set ourselves aside and conform ourselves to the will of God with humility, love and trust.