I love this gorgeous painting by Peter Paul Rubens, which dates from 1612. The little cherubs are so pink and sweet, so eager to escort her to her home in heaven. And the people on the ground, who were presumably gathered around Mary's death bed, are so enormously human: some of them are looking up into the sky, either in shock or in wonder. A few others (and I would have been in this group) are staring down at the empty shroud in bewilderment. "Huh?...Hey! What the?... Where'd she go?"
But Mary herself moves me so much. In some paintings of the Assumption (one of the most depicted religious scenes among artists), Mary travels upward with her hands folded against her stomach, whether out of her demure humility or because she was afraid she'd suffer from motion sickness, we don't know. But in this painting, she's reaching upward, ready to fly, face radiant. She's ready to be reunited with her boy. You can feel it.
And what a reunion that must have been, yes? I always picture Jesus's ascension into heaven as a very bittersweet time for the apostles and the rest of His followers, gathered there on the mountainside. But none must have felt that pang more than Mary. On the one hand, she must have had the enormous joy that her son had accomplished what he'd been sent from his Father to accomplish. And imagine how she felt at having him back for those several weeks after his resurrection, restored to her whole and in perfect health and even able to do some amazing things he hadn't been able to do before. What mother wouldn't rejoice in that, especially after what she'd been through as she went alongside him during his Passion?
But then there was the moment of parting. How did they say goodbye, I wonder? Maybe in a private, wistful moment before the crowd gathered? Maybe Mary and John and Jesus gathered in the kitchen at John's home and Mary made coffee for them all and they sat and talked companionably until Jesus said, "Well, it's about time to go..." and then John drained his mug and murmured some excuse about needing to go check on the goats or something, in order to give mother and son a moment alone. Jesus would have reminded her that he would always be with her in the Eucharist -- Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity -- as close as he had been before he was born. Even closer. That her role as the ark of the New Covenant was still continuing in their communion together.
And she, I think, would have always been brave and full of faith, always giving her yes to God, even when it hurt. She would have smiled as she sent him on his way.
I don't think this is a matter of dogma, but from what I've read, the Church seems to believe that Mary lived to be around sixty-three years old or so. Considering that she was probably around forty-nine when Jesus ascended into heaven, she had a good number of years on earth with his physical Presence at Mass, but without his shoulders to hug or his kiss on her cheek or the smell of his neck -- every mother knows her child's own smell, from infancy onward -- in her nose. So is it any wonder that she's reaching upward in that picture, glowing with happiness? Her wait was over.
I like to think of all the saints and angels lining up on either side of heaven's main street and falling to one knee to honor the one who was "blessed among all women" as the honor guard of baby-angels led her royal procession. But then I also like to think of that moment when a grown son, boyish again with a shout of joyous laughter, lifted his mom off her feet in a bear hug and swung her around the throne room, his bearded cheek scratchy against her skin.
For the rest of us, Mary represents the wonder of all God's own entering heaven. What a happy, happy feast day.
Here's a nice piece from Catholic Culture on the history of the Feast of the Assumption and Pope Pius XII's definition of the dogma, which was declared on November 1, 1950.
You can also read more about the Feast of the Assumption on the Saint of the Day widget on the left side of the page. Just scroll down a bit.
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