My dove is my only one,
perfect and mine.
She is the darling of her mother,
the favourite of the one who bore her.
Girls have seen her and proclaimed her blessed,
Queens and concubines have sung her praises,
‘Who is this arising like the dawn,
fair as the moon,
resplendent as the sun,
formidable as an army?’ (Song of Songs 6:9-10)
Several years ago, I wrote a series of meditations on the Rosary at my blog, in which I explored the themes of Mary as the New Eve and the New Ark of the Covenant in the Scripture Passages that provide the sources of the mysteries of the Rosary. A Protestant reader was rather perturbed by the various doctrines that the Church teaches about Mary, and asked in the comments, “Is there not room here for variation on ‘Mary’…?” In other words, since the Bible is relatively silent about the particulars of Mary’s life, should we be so insistent to hold onto ideas about her like her Immaculate Conception or her Assumption into Heaven? Can not someone who, reading the Bible and coming to another idea about Mary, be equally as justified holding to their alternative view of her (such as that she was a sinner like the rest of us, or that she was not taken to Heaven body and soul after her earthly life was over? After all, since the Bible itself is silent on these questions, why should we be so eager to assert that there is one right answer? (The irony, of course, is that this fellow had no problem telling me how wrong I was wherever we happened to disagree.)
It seemed to me then, as it does now, that such a question (about whether there can be variations on Mary) makes more than a few assumptions that themselves rival the grandiose nature of Mary’s glorious assumption into heaven! Since Mary was an historical person, obviously there are certain facts about her—certain things that are either true or false. To honestly and seriously ask if we can have variations of Mary, in the sense that this person meant it—that is, differing views or interpretations of her that are contradictory yet equally valid—is either to deny her reality or to deny that anything has any meaning. The simple fact is, either Mary was assumed into heaven, or she was not. These cannot both be true. One can either be right to believe that she was, or wrong to believe that she was, or simply claim to not know. But one cannot assert that because one doesn’t know, that it’s just as fine to believe that she was assumed and that she wasn’t. Schrodinger’s cat is either dead or alive in the box. While we don’t know for sure until we look, the cat is not simultaneously dead and alive until we know.
This, of course, leads to the second assumption that is made by the person who commented—namely, that the only way we could know whether Mary was assumed into heaven is if the Bible explicitly told us so. The commenter, working from a position of Sola Scriptura, believed that if something related to the faith is not in the Bible, then it must not be true—or at the very least, it’s questionably uncertain. Pay no attention to the tradition handed down from the Apostles, to the ancient allusions to and accounts of Mary’s Assumption in the Church Fathers, or the celebration of the event in the Church’s liturgy since ancient times (particularly in the East). The Bible doesn’t mention it, therefore it must be one of those pesky “traditions of men” that Jesus condemned! Never mind that we’re talking about an historical event, not a religious practice that contradicts the true worship of God!
And that, of course, brings us to the final anti-Assumption assumption of the question at hand: that is, that the Church, in defining the Marian dogmas, gives Mary too much honour and diminishes the place of Christ in our hearts. In other words, all the Church’s attention on Mary is idolatry. This is, of course, as absurd as supposing that knowing particular facts and stats about our favourite sports team or athlete is idolatry, or that having a hero or mentor is idolatrous!
Moreover, the things that the Church teaches about Mary are all tied directly to Jesus, who He is, and how He became a Man in order to save us. Mary played a vital role in the process of our redemption—and while it is obviously a subordinate role to that of Christ, her faithful obedience to God’s will in all things deserves our honour! As she herself said, “Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).
Far from being an abstract theory or idea, or a fictional character, the Blessed Virgin Mary was and is a real person, who so fully was conformed to Christ in her life and death that she followed in His steps all the way to resurrected glory, when He assumed her into heaven to be with Him. And there, she continues to pray for us and present our prayers to Jesus—just as when Elizabeth praised her for her faithfulness, and she responded with her Magnificat!
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is for us a vivid reminder that there is life beyond this valley of tears, and she continually prays for us, that we would be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.