Our Mother is With Us: What Mary’s Assumption Teaches Us about the Body

John Kubasak

Our Mother is With Us: What Mary’s Assumption Teaches Us about the Body

The Catholic Church has believed in some way since its beginning that at the end of her earthly life, the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken body and soul into heaven.  The dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was promulgated by Pope Pius XII in the bull Munificentissimus Deus (1950). I think taking a look at the century before it, the dogmatic proclamation was somewhat of a crown on over a century’s worth of evangelization on the part of Our Lady.  

Our Lady came to her children on around the world and inspired them to greater piety. She appeared to St. Catherine Laboure in 1830 to request the making of the miraculous medal. The apparitions at La Salette occurred in 1846. Several years later, Bl. Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. The dogma gained the personal approval of Our Lady when she appeared at Lourdes in 1858—identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception. She appeared at Knock, Ireland in 1879, then at Fatima in 1917, and in Beauraing, Belgium in 1932. On top of her personal appearances, her dear friend Pope Leo XIII (who reigned from 1878-1903) wrote twelve encyclicals on the rosary.  

All this activity on the part of Our Lady has one focus, according to St. John Paul II. “Taken up into heavenly glory, Mary dedicates herself totally to the work of salvation in order to communicate to every living person the happiness granted to her” (general audience, 7/23/97).  As with everything Marian, these apparitions all had the goal of drawing humanity to Christ. The Assumption is no different: this tremendous privilege to the Blessed Mother teaches us about the body, her identity, and the hope of heaven.  


The Body: A Very Good Place to Start

Let’s start at the very beginning: God made man and woman out of an outpouring of love. “Man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #27).  Men and women are a mysterious combination of body and soul. A man/woman is not a man/woman without both.  Sara & Justin Kraft pointed out in their article on the Ascension of Jesus the importance of the body. It’s one of the myriads of examples of the incarnational aspect of the Catholic faith.  

Consider the many facets of Catholic life and how they unite the spiritual and physical. The sacraments have matter and form; something spiritual is communicated physically. Living a moral life requires not just our intellectual assent to teachings but making the right choices in daily life. Lived charity requires a spiritual conviction in Christ’s command to serve the poor as well as actually going to help people in need. In all of these ways, what we do with the body matters and has implications on the soul. Likewise, the health (or lack thereof) of the soul affects the body. 

The Church’s teaching on the resurrection of the body continues in that incarnational pattern. On the last day, Christ will come in glory to judge the entire human race. Everyone will receive their bodies back. We say this every time we say the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. When we consider the Assumption of Mary, she received in advance what all of humanity has been promised by God. Who better to receive that honor than the sinless Immaculata? 

The Assumption also shows God’s love for creation. Many heresies throughout the history of the Church have sought to rationalize the faith by either taking a materialist (only the physical matters, not the spiritual) or spiritualist (the physical does not matter, only the spiritual) worldview. These worldviews have vast implications on faith, morality, and charity—but whichever extreme it is, neither hold any water. A materialist worldview is ultimately vacuous and unsatisfactory to the intellect. The spiritualist lives in an ungrounded fantasy world.  

In between these extremes the Incarnation and the Assumption say together: our bodies do matter! They are important and have an eternal destiny. “The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit” (Catechism #364, see the whole section #362-368).


The Logical Conclusion to the Immaculate Conception

Catholic apologist Maisie Ward drew a helpful parallel from the Assumption to the Transfiguration. “Just as the Transfiguration suddenly showed the Apostles the reality of Our Lord—His veiled glory—so this Mystery shows us the reality of Our Lady—her glory veiled on earth” (The Splendor of the Rosary, pg. 145).  

The glory hidden within St. Gabriel’s greeting to Mary at the Annunciation—hail, full of grace!—was given further development by her title of the Immaculate Conception. The Fathers of the Church, according to Bl. Pope Pius IX, “thought that this singular and solemn salutation, never heard before, showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Ineffabilis Deus, encyclical establishing the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 1854). Would it not seem strange that such a uniquely graced person would have her body rot in a grave? 

Looking backward, we can see the divine logic in the Assumption. Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin, and thus her flesh did not know the corruption of sin. It follows that Mary’s experience of death would be different than it is for the rest of us, who have been corrupted by sin. 


Hope of Heaven

The Catechism of the Catholic Church draws a straight line from the saving work of Jesus to the Assumption: it “is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (#966). This is a message of great hope! The promise of heaven made by Jesus already started to be fulfilled in the person of His Mother.  

St. John Paul II highlighted the hope of the Assumption coming from a different direction. “Death is not the last word.  Death – the mystery of the Virgin's Assumption assures us – is the passage to life, the encounter with Love.  It is the passage to the eternal happiness in store for those who toil for truth and justice and do their utmost to follow Christ.” (Homily on the Assumption, 8/15/01)  In another homily for the solemnity, St. John Paul II said the hope we have in the Assumption has its foundation in the paschal mystery (homily, 8/15/99). Mary’s vocation, role, and salvation all depend on Christ.  

From the vantage point of heaven, Our Lady continues the mission given to her by Jesus: as a nurturing mother to the Church. When God gives us a gift, it is not for us alone. He always intends for us to share those gifts. The gift of superabundant grace in the life of Mary did not end in the Assumption. St. John Paul II teaches us that her reach now extends to the entire world in every century. “Her sublime exaltation does not distance her from her people or from the world’s problems, on the contrary, it enables her to watch effectively over human affairs with that attentive concern with which she obtained the first miracle from Jesus at the wedding in Cana" (homily, 8/15/98).

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!