When I was learning about Catholicism, as an Anglican in the process of converting, Mary was a sticking point. Yes, of course Jesus’s mother was “full of grace,” as the angel had said, and therefore worthy of admiration. But why did the Church teach that she was conceived without original sin and received bodily into heaven? These teachings seemed to owe more to popular piety than to the Scriptures, or even the Church Fathers. Mary’s Assumption was defined as an article of faith in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, who made clear that he was speaking infallibly. Coming from a tradition that taught neither Mary’s Assumption nor the infallibility of the pope, I found this fact a tough pill to swallow. What was it about Mary that made Catholics claim she had received so many unique gifts from God, beyond even the high honor of being Christ’s mother?
A helpful Mercedarian brother came to my aid. What I hadn’t understood at first was that Mariology is ecclesiology. That is to say, every special grace given to Mary is an eschatological promise to the Church. In a way she is unique, as the Mother of God. But in another way she is not unique: Her preservation from sin, her bodily entrance into heaven, and even her celestial coronation are the first fruits of the glories Christ offers everyone who shares in his Body. It is only fitting that he begins this glorification with his mother, the woman who gave him that human body.
At the end of all things, the Church will be immaculate, a spotless bride (Ephesians 5:27). Each human body will be resurrected and the saints will experience heaven in the flesh, their bodies and souls reunited (1 Corinthians 15:42). And the saints will have crowns to offer up to the Thrice-Holy God (Revelation 4:10). Mary is the “already” of Christ’s kingdom of “already but not yet.”
Read more at First Things.