HOW THE BIBLE EXPLAINS THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY INTO HEAVEN
“GO UP LORD, TO THE PLACE OF YOUR REST, YOU AND THE ARK OF YOUR STRENGTH” (PS 132:8)
Dear friends in Christ, the Church celebrates a great feast (solemnity) today, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. How are we to understand this doctrine? Does the Bible give a clue to this? I invite you all to journey along with me through the Scripture.
To begin with, I shall explain what the term “Assumption” is. The word “assumption” comes from the Latin root “assumptio”, meaning “to be taken up”. St. Paul teaches that we will be “assumed” (taken up or caught up) into the clouds to meet Jesus at the last day (see 1Thes. 4:17). Therefore, the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary should NOT be likened to the popular usage of the term “assume” or “assuming” etc. On one hand, the word “to assume” means to take something for granted or to act as if something were true without any proof. If we limit our understanding to this, then, we shall miss out the point. When we talk of the assumption of Mary, we refer to the belief that she was “taken up” by God to dwell with her beloved Son, Jesus Christ in heaven (as illustrated in the image below). This gives value to the afterlife of those who believe in God and in His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; put differently, a feast which reminds us that if we remain faithful to the end, we shall be “taken up” into the clouds to meet the Lord on the last day (cf. 1Thes. 4:17).
The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary is already prefigured in the book of Psalms: “GO UP, LORD TO THE PLACE OF YOUR REST, YOU AND THE ARK OF YOUR STRENGTH…” (Ps. 132:8). In this light, the Blessed Virgin Mary could be understood as the ARK of the Lord’s strength. How are we to understand this?
In the Old Testament, God made a covenant with the Israelites on Mt. Sinai through Moses. This is known as “The Law” contained in two Tablets of Stones. This was usually kept in an Ark prepared for it (cf. Exd. 25:10-22). Put differently, the Ark is the dwelling place of the Covenant, (that is its tent). Consequently, in the New Testament, we come to understand that the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the Ark of the New Covenant, for she was privileged to provide a fitting dwelling place for our Lord Jesus Christ (the New Covenant) in her womb. Jesus Christ is the New Covenant at its core. He embodies everything the New Covenant is. At the Last Supper, we hear Christ saying: “This is the Cup of my blood, the blood of the NEW and EVERLASTING COVENANT…” (Cf. Mtt 26:27-28)
The Blessed Virgin Mary – the Ark of the New Covenant has a lot of similarities with the Old Testament Ark that contains the Law written on Tablets of Stones. Let us consider the following:
- When the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he said “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will “overshadow” you (cover you with its shadow) cf. Luke 1:35. The verb “to cover” or “to overshadow” and the metaphor of a cloud are used in the Bible to represent the presence and glory of God. Similarly, when the Ark of the Old Covenant was completed, the cloud of the Lord (the Shekinah Glory) covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-35; Nm 9:18, 22).
- When David received the Ark of the Old Covenant, he DANCED for joy in the presence of the Ark; he said: “How can the Ark of God come to me?” He also left it in the hill country of Judaea for 3 months (cf. 1Sam 6:1-2;2Sam 6:9-14). Similarly, in the Gospel Reading of today (Luke 1:39-56), when Elizabeth received Mary (the Ark of the New Covenant), She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the baby in her womb DANCED/LEAPED for joy; She exclaimed: “Blessed are thou among women…Why is it granted to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (This is similar to the statement of David as stated above); and Mary stayed with her for 3 months (in the hill country of Judaea) – the same case with the Old Testament Ark as stated above. Therefore, we come to understand that the Ark of the Old Covenant has a lot to do with Mary (the Ark of the New Covenant).
Nevertheless, it was fitting that after his ascension into heaven; Christ judged it worthy that his Blessed Mother (the Ark of the new Covenant) should also assume (be taken up) body and soul into heaven; that is why the book of Psalms makes the allusion “Go up, Lord to the place of your rest, you and the Ark of your strength…” (Ps. 132:8). In this verse, the Psalmist makes an allusion to the ascension of the Lord into heaven (Luke 24:50-53) and subsequently, that of the Ark of the Lord’s strength, which is better understood as the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the First reading of today, (REV 11:19A; 12:1-6A, 10A), John saw the vision of heaven, we were meant to understand that God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ARK OF HIS COVENANT could be seen in the temple, a WOMAN clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars…We were told that She gave birth to a son, a male Child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. In as much as this part of the Scripture is referred to the “Church” at war with the dragon, as in, the “woman” representing the Church in the first place, an allusion could also be drawn here. Notice that the text begins with the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in heaven, and then a “Woman” crowned with twelve stars, to give birth to a Son destined to rule the nations with an iron rod. Now, Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, she gave birth to Christ the Lord and Ruler. She received the crown of “unfading glory” when she assumed into heaven, little wonder the psalmist, today, makes an allusion to her as the Queen. This we see in the Responsorial Psalm: “On your right stands the Queen in garments of Gold” (Ps. 45:9).
Given the context above, the Church in her wisdom, and guided by the Holy Spirit affirms that She was taken into heaven – that is, body and soul. Even as the event (story) of Mary being taken up to heaven is not contained in the Scripture (since everything cannot be contained therein); however, the teaching remains deeply rooted in the Scripture as explained above. For these reasons, on November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith, he says: “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 to heavenly glory”.
Dearest friends, this is called the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven and it is celebrated every 15th day of August (TODAY); it is a holy day of obligation, and all Catholics are obliged to attend Mass. May the good Lord grant each and every one of us the grace to continue to fight the good fight, so that after the completion of the course of our earthly lives, or at the last day, we might be “taken up” in the clouds to meet the Lord, and be given the crown of unfading glory, Amen.
Happy feast-day to you all!