Mary and the Church

“The final glory of Mary, which we recognize with the eye of faith, is a recognition of the final glory of the Church.” — Hugo Rahner, “Our Lady and the Church”

The relevance of the Assumption is “a foreshadowing of what is to come for the whole Church and is a fulfillment of what has already occurred in the Lord,” writes Hugo Rahner in Our Lady and the Church. This is not a singular, gracing gift to Mary, as being taken up to glory in body and soul. Rather, it is a gift given to God’s people. The redemption of the flesh is now open. The eschaton has commenced.

What is the reason for the Assumption of our Lady? It is the love of God. The opening prayer for the Feast substantiates the fact that this heavenly generosity is a freely bestowed gift from the foreseeing wisdom of God. “In the plan of your wisdom, she who bore the Christ in her womb was raised body and soul in glory to be with Him in heaven” (Roman Missal, alternative Opening Prayer, feast of the Assumption).

Jesus the Christ refers to this providential sequence: “I have gone forth from the Father and have come into the world. Now I will again leave the world and return to the Father” (Jn 15:16).

The Lord repeats this action throughout history by taking humankind along with Him back to the Father, to Mary and to the Church in glory. The redemptive task of the Son would have been aborted had He not taken humankind back with Him to His Father. “So that they too may be where I am and that they may see my glory, which You, just Father, have given to me” (Jn 17:24).

When the Virgin was chosen to be the physical instrument of the hypostatic union, she was also asked to accept the entire paschal mystery. In this offering of the divine life to humankind for a second time after the fall in Eden, it was God’s desire that this salvific response would be accepted in obedience and freedom.

Since God preserved Mary from all sin, this providential preservation permitted her to acquiesce without condition to the entire mystery of Christ. The birth of the Church took place in this incarnational action. The purpose of Christ’s redeeming action was to restore humankind to harmony with God and with all creation.

Referring to Vatican II, Jaroslav Pelikan reminded his fellow Protestants that, regardless of their attitudes toward Mary, it is impossible to enunciate theology of Christ or Church without some theology of Mary.

Protestant theology must ask itself whether this connection between Christology and Mariology was an historical coincidence or whether there was in fact some ineluctable obligation in the orthodox confession of Jesus Christ to speak as he did for his Mother (Pelikan, Mary, Archetype of the Church).

Pelikan recalled the New Testament request that Christians honor the cloud of witnesses who surround them as they run the race of faith. He considered Mary not as a divine being but as an outstanding member of the communion of saints (Christians in Conversation).

Since Mary is the Mother of Christians, she remains their mother when they leave the Church. Our Lady was selected to bring the other Christs into the world of flesh and blood. Besides individual perfection, Mary desires a unity and perfection for the entire Mystical Body (Gregory Baum, That They May be One).

Future glory is realized at the present moment, when the mystery of Mary and the Church are intimately experienced. Revelation 12:14-17 identifies the mother figure as the symbol for both Mary and the Church. Maria Assumpta experienced a complete bodily victory as the symbol of the reconquest of paradise and of the Church’s struggle toward a final victory.

Ephrem the Syrian illustrated that the pictures of Mary and the Church are mutually transparent and are mutually seen as one.

Born of me, he in turn has given me rebirth, for he has clothed his Mother with a new garment, he has absorbed her own flesh into himself, and her he has clothed with the sunshine of himself (Sermo 1, Operasyriace et latine).

The Church is already in glory in the sense that the last day and judgment are incipiently here. Yet the militant Church remains engaged in her struggle with the force of evil.

There is. . .a powerful but mysterious influence of the Church in heaven upon the Church on earth, of Mary upon her children in danger, of the risen Christ upon his still imperfect body (Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, St. Pius X).

A scene in Revelation pictures the Mother of God, already in possession of eternal beatitude: in pain with a mysterious birth. What birth is this? It is our own birth, “for we are still in exile and in a state of being born for the perfect love of God and for everlasting happiness” (J. Beumer, “The Analogy of Mary and the Church, and Its Significance for Mary’s Universal Mediation” in Theologie und Seelsorge).

The goal of the Church through her history of travail is the vision of the Lord Jesus in glory. Mary has received this goal. She remains fulfilled; the rest of humankind awaits fulfillment. The eschatological theology of the Orthodox Church preserves this vision. “High in the heavens stands the Virgin Mother of the human race; she has sanctified the whole world of nature, and in her, and through her, all things shall be gloriously transformed” (S. Bulgakov, L’Orthodoxie).

The Creed’s reference to the resurrection of the body and life everlasting finds fulfillment within the Church, born at the same time into the opaque world and into the glory of Christ’s resurrection to heaven. The Virgin is identified as existent in the Church and in the individual heart of the faithful.

Upon Mary came in mysterious stillness the shadow of the Holy Ghost, and the Church becomes Mother through the outpouring of the Holy Ghost at Baptism. Mary, without blemish, gave birth to her Son, and the Church washes away every blemish in those she brings to birth. Of Mary was born He who was from the beginning of the Church in reborn that which from the beginning was nothing (Pseudo-Caesarius of Arles).

FATHER DUGGAN (1924-2007) was ordained a priest in June 1948 for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He was a graduate of the Jesuit School of Theology in the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif., and the Pontifical Marianum Research Institute at the University of Dayton.