Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Today we triumphantly celebrate the repose of the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It would seem that this event would be sad and mournful, because we are remembering death, the death of someone so very special. Why should we rejoice on this day of the Dormition of the Mother of God? Why is her death specially celebrated this day?
Before the coming of Christ on earth, death was frightening, because it snatched us away — irretrievably — and there were no means of escape, for sin reigned over people and we alone could not overcome our sin. But after the Lord’s coming and His victory over sin and death, the horror of death disappeared; it became as if a peaceful sleep, after which dawns the joyous morning of the Resurrection.
To the measure that each of us conquers the sin that still lives in us, the fear of death disappears, so that triumphant conquerors of sin meet death with joy, and no longer die but rather peacefully fall asleep. We see the clearest example of this triumph over death in the Dormition of the Most Blessed Mother Mary. She reclined in her grave with joy for she was confident in what awaited her as a fellow and perfect conqueror of sin. Similarly, we see the apostles, martyrs, and all the saints, meeting death as a joy, as a birth to new life, eternal blessed life because they overcame sin in their lives.
So today the Holy Church adorns itself in garments of triumph, rejoices and exalts, and calls all people to do the same.
Like all human beings, the Mother of God died on this day. But she, like all the saved, understood death differently; differently because fear has been broken by Jesus. The Son of God and Son of Mary provided Mary and all us Christians with new consolation. By Jesus’ death and Resurrection, the sting of death was destroyed. Death, once something terrible and painful, has become for all who follow Christ something joyful and blessed.
Mary fully understood this. We have no factual accounts of Mary’s death, exactly what occurred and how. There is pious tradition surrounding the event, but that is so very unimportant. It matters not one bit because how Mary died is not the point. The point is how she lived and that because of her gospel life she is in heaven. Of that there can be no doubt.
Mary was more than just mother. Mary was not just a servant of Jesus. Rather, she was that faithful and perfect disciple who walked the gospel path Jesus laid out. Her love of God caused her to trust and say yes to Him. Her faith in her Son made her fearless. Her listening, serving, praying, presence to others, and learning brought about one absolute for Mary – a constant pointing to Jesus, to His message, to His instruction, to the building of the Kingdom. That is why we know she is in heaven.
In all this Mary offers us a path to follow. Like her, our love of God should constantly cause us to say yes to all He asks of us. We too should be fearless in our faith and focused on the listening, serving, praying, presence to others, and learning necessary to be better and better disciples while we strive to build God’s Kingdom here and now. If we do all that, we can await the sleep of death in peace and confidence like Mary.