Sooner or later, my body will become a corpse.
A corpse looks alien. It’s both strangely familiar (so clearly my body), yet utterly unrecognizable (so clearly not me), putting on display the jarring indignity of death, the separation of my soul from my body—the fundamental elements that constitute me as a human person. Death dissolves the integration of my human identity, separating (in a sense) me from myself.
The cold truth about being mortal is that, sooner or later, we all suffer the disfigurement of death.
All of us except one, who, “when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 966). Death could not defile Mary because she was so closely united, in the core of her identity, to her Son, the very Source of Life.
While she gave her own physical likeness to Jesus, Mary was deeply conformed to Him as one made in the Divine Image. She defined her very identity by this conformity: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy word” (Lk. 1:38). Through her union with the Divine Word, Mary’s heart and soul magnified the glory of the Lord. She was full of grace, full of Divine Life, which is to say that she was full of Divine Love—the Love that the deep waters of death cannot quench (cf. Song of Songs 8:6-7). Because of this, when she came to the end of her earthly life, she crossed over those waters of death undefiled to the core of her being, with the harmonious union of her body and soul intact.
Mary’s assumption into heaven teaches us what it means to be fully alive, truly ourselves, immune to death’s sting, immortal. The true life is the life of grace, our participation in the Divine Life of God, into which we are initiated and in which we are sustained through the Sacraments. When we lose this Divine Life through sin we become spiritual corpses—alienated from our true selves, unrecognizable, disfigured. The Sacraments incorporate us into the resurrection of Christ, raising our spiritual corpses from the dead and making us participants in the undying life of God.
Mary lives now in heaven to save us from eternal death. She is our Blessed Mother, gaining for us the gift of Divine Life through her prayers, now and at the hour of our death. Which is why today, on the Feast of the Assumption, we entrust ourselves, body and soul, to Mary, Queen of Heaven.
Image: Fra Angelico, The Death and the Assumption of the Virgin