The preface for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 9, 2019

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Assumption

Each year on August 15 the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption, the belief that Mary was assumed, taken up body and soul to heaven, where she lives in eternal glory with her son Jesus. The prayers that are said at Mass, particularly the Preface, provide a concise statement of the major aspects of this dearly held belief.

The first sentence is, “For today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven.” “Today” seems to imply that the Assumption is happening at the present moment, when in fact it took place centuries ago. The Assumption is being remembered and honored today.

“Virgin” is a major statement about Jesus. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her (Lk 1:35). It was the Holy Spirit in partnership with the Father that was the source of Jesus’ life. Jesus did not have human origins. He is divine.

“Mother of God” is another powerful statement, partly about Mary, but more importantly about Jesus. Jesus is “Son of God and Son of Mary”; he has two natures, divine and human. Mary is Theotokos, the bearer of God (Ephesus, 431 AD), and her son Jesus is not a holy man, a prophet, or an exceptional human being, but truly God, one of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.

“Assumed into heaven” is the belief that Mary was taken up into heaven, and in doing so, she joined elite company. The Bible names only two others who have been assumed to heaven, Elijah who went to heaven on a flaming chariot (2 Kgs 2:11), and Jesus who was taken up to heaven in a cloud (Acts 1:9). It is presumed that Moses also ascended because “no one knows the place of his burial” (Dt 34:6). Jesus and Mary were both without sin, and as Jesus was rewarded by his Father by being ascended to heaven, Mary was rewarded by her Son by being assumed into heaven.

The Preface continues, Mary is “the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection.” Mary is “the beginning,” the first disciple of Jesus, the first member of his Church. She is also the “image of your Church,” the perfect model of discipleship, the picture of virtue, loving, kind, and generous, and Christians are to follow her example.

Next, Mary is mentioned with regard to the “Church’s coming to perfection.” The members of the Church are far from perfect, but Mary was immaculately conceived, free of sin from the beginning, and she avoided all forms of sin her entire life, free from sin until the end, sinless from start to finish, “perfect.” “Coming” acknowledges that perfection is the desired outcome and that this is a lifelong journey. Every disciple individually and the Church collectively is invited to become more like Mary, to root out all forms of sin and grow in holiness.

The Preface goes on to say that Mary is “a sign of hope and comfort.” The hope is that if Mary was taken up to heaven at the end of her time on her, that on the day of our death we will be taken up to heaven as she was. It is natural to be nervous about what will happen to us when we die, and it is a source of immense comfort to know that the glorious journey that Mary made to heaven is promised to every faith-filled believer.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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