God, Who made the sun, also made the moon. The moon does not take away from the brilliance of the sun. The moon would be only a burnt-out cinder floating in the immensity of space were it not for the sun. All its light is reflected from the sun. The Blessed Mother reflects her Divine Son; without Him, she is nothing. With Him, she is the Mother of Men. On dark nights we are grateful for the moon; when we see it shining, we know there must be a sun. So in this dark night of the world when men turn their backs on Him Who is the Light of the World, we look to Mary to guide their feet while we await the sunrise.
(Fulton J. Sheen, The World’s First Love, Chapter 5)
I opened with the above quotation from Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen because it eloquently summarizes the core of Catholic teaching about Mary, the Mother of our Lord and of our Church, and the spiritual Mother of all Christians (whether they accept her as such or not.) Many of our Protestant friends misunderstand how Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) view Mary. I would venture to say that nearly all of them think we pay far too much attention to her, claiming that any veneration or devotion to Mary or any of the other Saints somehow detracts from our worship of her Son as our Lord and the King of the Universe. Many even accuse Catholics of worshipping Mary, placing her on the same level as Jesus, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. These views miss the essence of Catholic spirituality concerning Mary, in particular, and the Saints in general.
As Archbishop Sheen points out, we view Mary as the heavenly reflection of the infinite glory of her Son, as in space the moon merely reflects the light of the sun. The moon is beautiful and reminds us of the sun, while the Virgin Mother’s beauty reflects and reminds us of Jesus. Her role is always thus, to point us toward him, and lead us to him. As she instructed the servants at the wedding feast at Cana, so she always instructs the faithful: “Do whatever he tells you.” Jn 2:5. This story also exemplifies Mary’s role as intercessor. As she interceded on behalf of the hosts of the wedding feast, so she intercedes for us with her Son when we request it. Jesus remains the sole mediator between God and Man, but this truth in no way prevents Mary from aiding her spiritual children in approaching Christ.
Thus, worship of Christ is not a zero-sum game. The Church has always believed and taught that it is proper to worship God alone, and that anything else is idolatry. Yet the Church also has always believed and taught that it is fitting and proper to venerate and pray for the intercession of Mary and the Saints, whose roles are as models of holy behavior and whose existence in the very presence of God allows them to carry our prayers to the Throne of Heaven. Cf. Revelation 5:8. We take nothing away from Christ when we venerate Mary–in fact, we would dishonor Christ if we failed to honor her. God commands us all to “Honor thy Father and thy Mother.” Exodus 20:12. When we honor Mary we both treat her as our spiritual mother and venerate her as the Mother of our Lord, whom we try to imitate in all things, including his love for her.
Mary did not merit anything on her own, just like us…she was selected and lifted up by her Son. Her response to being so selected, filled with grace at her own Immaculate Conception, was the same response we try to emulate: she said “yes” to being the theotokos, the God-bearer, and thus said the ultimate “yes” to her son, Jesus. As such she was in fact the first Christian. She is absolutely worthy of every bit of love and honor we offer to her, as our example and our guide.
Theologically, it can be said that the Assumption we celebrate this week was practically inevitable, flowing from the Immaculate Conception and from Mary’s sinless life on this Earth, at the close of which it was only fitting that she be assumed directly, body and soul, into heaven, to continue her work of leading people to her son. While the Roman Church does not purport to know whether Mary actually suffered bodily death, a lovely legend holds that she was placed in a tomb by some of the then-living apostles. A few days later they came to visit her and found only fragrant lilies in place of her body. In the East, they speak not of Mary’s Assumption, but rather her “Dormition”, or falling asleep. Either way, the point is that her son chose to bring her body along with her soul directly to heaven, since by virtue of her Immaculate Conception, her corporal form was exempt from the decay the rest of us face as a consequence of original sin, and from the concupiscence we all battle daily; thus her ability to remain free of personal sin, as well. As is so often the case, the doctrine of the Assumption demonstrates the beautiful symmetry and internal consistency of the Christian faith.
If you live in the United States, except in Hawaii, August 15 is a holy day of obligation. Even if it’s not a day of obligation where you live, please go to Mass to worship our Lord and thank him for all of his blessings and gifts, especially the gift of his Mother’s loving care for all of us, as she guides and assists us on our journey to be with Jesus and all the saints forever in heaven.
Laudamus Te, Jesus Christus!