To understand the Assumption of Mary into heaven we must first understand that, unlike Jesus her son, she did not have two distinct natures. He was, at once, God and man. She was not. Mary, like us, shares only one of Christ’s natures- his humanity.
It should be an obvious point- Mary was human. Catholics do not believe she was divine and never have. Yet we must state this clearly and often because many protestants miss this point which can lead to confusion and which can then create an imaginary barrier to reconciliation. Too often those who have not had Marian doctrines explained to them will assume that we somehow worship Mary as part of the Godhead. So let us repeat Mary was not God; Christ’s divinity being a gift from his heavenly father.
This point is made obvious in the Gospel birth narratives. Mary’s gift to Jesus is his human and Jewish identity. Whilst God the father gifts the divinity, seen in the miracle by which her Virgin womb conceived the word made flesh. A miracle which, though she was a willing participant, was done unto her, not done by her. This point is important. She is the passive object, not the active agent, of grace when Jesus is born.
The same is true at the Assumption. Mary does not go up to heaven under her own steam- an active agent of grace. Again it is something done unto her -she is a passive but willing object. It is God who works the miracle – raising her body and soul into heaven. And it is not even a unique miracle, after all he also raised Elijah body and soul into heaven within the Old Testament. So the how of the assumption is simple and obvious. Mary was assumed into heaven because God willed it by act of miracle. What is more interesting is the reason why he chose to do this. To understand that we must look again to Jesus. And the clue is found by examining the very reason he came to earth at all, spelt out in 1 Corinthians 15: “As all die in Adam, so all will live in Christ“.
Jesus came to earth to correct original sin, which we see poetically described in Genesis. To put right what Adam got wrong. And just as first Adam had Eve, so new Adam does too. It is here Mary finds her role and purpose in the story of salvation. Jesus, the new Adam, Mary, the new Eve. You see this when looking at the parallels between the two:
- In Genesis, the woman (Eve) came from the body of man (Adam). But in the new order the man (Jesus) comes from the body of woman (Mary). It’s a reversal.
- In Genesis an angelic being drew eve away from God, in the Gospel’s another angel, Gabriel, calls her back to him. Its a reversal.
- In the old order, the woman (Eve) said no to God and led the man (Adam) to do likewise. In the new order the woman (Mary) said “Yes” to God and raised Jesus to do likewise. It’s a reversal.
- Adam and Eve reveled together in disobedience of God. Jesus and Mary suffered together doing his will. It’s a reversal.
- In the old order Adam and Eve shared the punishment of sin. In the new order Jesus and Mary share the blessings of Redemption. A fullness of life with God; Jesus through the Ascension -Mary through the Assumption. It’s a reversal of man and woman’s destiny.
In the doctrine of the assumption then we focus on that final point. We discover that the destiny of man and woman lies in heaven. Man and woman together from the Fall to the Redemption. Sharing eternal life. Adam and Eve reconciled to God through the miracle of the salvation story which comes to us in the Gospel.
Mary’s faith brought the new Adam, Jesus Christ our Saviour, into the world. That faith saw her crowned as the new Eve. And that faith saw her raised to heaven- body and soul- to be with God forever. And truly there is more comfort in this assumption than in the ascension. For Jesus could only go to heaven, he belongs there. What of it. He is not like us. He is God. But when Mary is raised we can say- see there goes one like us and thus we can get there too!
in her life Mary points to Jesus. In her assumption she points us to heaven. For without Jesus, Mary is nothing. He alone is God, he alone saves by grace. But this only came to be because of Mary’s faithfulness in saying ‘yes’ to God.
Will we too say yes to God? Will we also choose to live by grace? That we may have a life dependent on Jesus? That we may be raised to be with him heaven?