The Mother in Heaven
“We are all her children, she is the Mother of all mankind. And now, the whole human race commemorates her ineffable assumption. Mary is welcomed to heaven: the Daughter of God the Father, Mother of God the Son, Spouse of God the Holy Spirit. Greater than she no one but God.”
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
Christ is Passing By, no. 171
The Jerusalem tradition remains consistent: Mary of Nazareth, Mother of the Lord, spent the last days of her earthly life in Jerusalem. That young maiden, born in Jerusalem, who had moved to Galilee and had become the Mother of Jesus, had dedicated her life to a particular maternal mission before the harrowing events of the Passion. But from the cross, that maternity became universal. Since the dark moment of desolation and sadness of the first Holy Saturday, we see her as the Comforter of the Afflicted and the Help of the (then few) Christians. But we can also imagine her in those early years of the nascent Church. First in Jerusalem with the Apostles, then Saint John in Ephesus, and finally back in the Holy City.
What were those days like for Mary? The joy of each new conversion indeed filled her heart. She was also delighted by the personal growth decisions of those starting on her Son’s path. And she would offer motherly advice and suggestions from someone who misses no detail, who can read displeasure or contradiction in each child’s face. She would continue in the way seen so clearly in the Gospel, for example, at Cana. She immediately notices needs, and in her dialogue with Jesus – daily prayer – she moves him to intervene, even if it seems that the hour has not arrived. Because the Mother can touch the Sacred Heart of the Son to bring forward the needed blessing.
And the Eucharist. How must those moments of the breaking of the bread have been for her? Knowing she would meet the Most High God, truly present in the Sacred Host. After communion, she would converse with Jesus, who was present within her. Perhaps recalling those nine months when unborn Jesus was inside her, she would speak to him with the love of a loving mother.
Indeed, as expected, day-to-day life was filled with ordinary details: household chores in Jerusalem, assisting the needy, conversations about the price of bread and market deals, interwoven with more profound moments of intimacy with the disciples and holy women where they spoke of Jesus and his redemptive action. At night, she would retire to sleep, tired from a long day dedicated to the co-redemption of souls. Perhaps asking the Lord to shorten the days of suffering for her suffering children: those imprisoned or sick, those who had travelled or were burdened by family problems. One by one. And then she slept with the peace of someone who knows they are a Child of God, the Father.
Thus would come the last day of her earthly life. Partly, Mary didn’t want to leave this world, as there was so much left to do, so many people who still didn’t know her Son. On the other hand, she longed to reach Heaven and enter the Celestial Homeland without ever leaving or forgetting about us.
Theologians’ conversations on this point vary, and the Church has not yet declared it. Still, it’s logical to ask: Did Mary die? Or did she instead ascend to Heaven while still alive? My opinion is that Mary allowed no exception. She accepted to go through death like all of humanity, identifying even in this with her Son, who, being perfectly human, died and was buried. Seeking also to rise with him and be by his side.
In any case, the Church affirms that at the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed into Heaven in body and soul. And this detail is crucial. Faith tells us, and the Church confirms, that Mary’s body is in Heaven. We don’t just assert that Mary is in Heaven in spirit, as are the saints who have gone before us, but that she is there in body and soul. She lives in a glorified body, like that of Jesus, after the resurrection. Mary is not a figure of the past. Mary is alive, and if we speak to her, she hears us with the ears that heard the cries of the newborn Child God. And she looks upon us from Heaven with the eyes that saw Christ nailed to the Cross. Those are the same eyes that now look upon us lovingly from Heaven.
The Jerusalem tradition, as we mentioned, remains consistent: Mary’s last days on earth were in Jerusalem. However, it’s not unanimous about the place of the Assumption. Since ancient times, two places claim to have been the last to be touched by Our Lady before she was assumed.
First, there’s the Church of the Dormition. Located on Mount Zion, just a few meters from the Cenacle, the modern Benedictine church, recently restored, houses the remains of a Roman-era basilica, marking the place where the Virgin “slept”. We can understand this figuratively, supposing we accept the idea that Mary truly experienced death. In that case, it’s easy to understand that the place she drew her last breath is just steps away from the epicenter of Christianity. The early Church met in those buildings. There, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. There, they first saw the Risen Lord. In that place, the First Council would gather, and there Saul of Tarsus, now converted, would greet Peter. And there, tradition says, the apostles gathered to accompany Our Lady in her “Dormition.”
It’s logical to think they would arrange with the utmost care all the details for the burial of the Mother of God. This brings us to the second holy site: Mary’s Tomb. Located in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, by the Kidron stream, there’s a fitting place for burials. Outside the walls, in rocky terrain, where the city could hardly expand, we find a vast cemetery. The chosen place for Mary’s burial lies, perhaps not coincidentally, just a few meters from the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. And there the apostles laid the lifeless body of the most beautiful creature. The only thing that can compare to the deep sadness of those orphaned apostles is the boundless joy that burst forth in the heavenly courts.
And because the shadowy death couldn’t contain the one who gave birth to Life, Almighty God decided to embrace the body and soul of His Mother, Daughter, and Spouse. There’s no idle angel. All the myriad celestial beings, in their orders, and all the martyrs and saints of Heaven welcome the Woman of the Fiat with a roar that shakes hell. And when the ancient dragon, the serpent, emerges terrified from the darkness, the Woman steps on its head without hesitation.
Turning to our Mother to venerate her, mirroring what the heavenly courts do, is a delightful duty: all generations will call me blessed. And seeking her maternal protection guarantees success: to Jesus, we go and return through Mary. St. Josemaría loved the great feast of the Assumption, and it was on August 15, 1951, that he went to the Holy House of Loreto to consecrate Opus Dei to the Sweetest Heart of Mary. There he asked the Virgin for guidance for himself and his sons and daughters, that she might prepare a safe path for them. Cor Mariae Dulcissimum, iter para tutum!
Amid difficulties and obstacles, St. Josemaría would rush to the house (to the Holy House of Nazareth) and take refuge under Mary’s Immaculate Mantle. Similarly, following the example of the saints, we can turn to our Mother in times when our path seems threatened, knowing that she looks upon us with affection.