The Church has always presented Mary as an example for us to follow individually, as the model Christian. But Mary’s experience is also understood by theologians to be a kind of pattern for the whole Church. This is especially the case with her Assumption. To understand why, we need to go back to some of the basics of our faith.
The foundations of Christ’s Kingdom are laid, but he hasn’t yet finished building it up. He is still extending its borders and gathering more and more people into it. This is the work of the Church militant, the pilgrim Church here on earth. As members of that Church, this is our work: to build up Christ’s Kingdom, to bring more and more people into his friendship, so that they follow him and find the meaning their lives are meant to have. But what will happen at the end of history?
What will the Church become when the years of building reach their completion? This is where the pattern set by Mary’s Assumption gives us supernatural insight. In a sense, every aspect of Mary’s life is a kind of pattern for the whole life of the Church. Mary brought the baby Jesus into the world on the first Christmas, took care of him as he grew to manhood, and accompanied him as he fulfilled his mission. The Church as a whole has a similar relationship with the mystical body of Christ—and with every Christian, the members of that body. The Church continually brings Christ into the world through her many works of charity and apostolate, and especially through bringing more Christians into the world by baptism. And with her teaching and sacraments, the Church cares for and accompanies her members as they grow to maturity and carry out their missions.
And so, just as God assumed Mary into heaven, body and soul, at the end of her earthly mission, so God will lift the whole Church into perfect communion with himself in heaven at the end of history. Mary’s Assumption, then, is not only God’s promise to be faithful to us as individuals, but it is an expression of God’s promise of faithfulness to the Church as a whole. Every Christian who follows Mary’s path of humility and fidelity to God’s will can look forward to following her into the glories and joys of heaven. Every Christian who faithfully participates in the life of the Church will also experience the Church’s assumption into heaven— so to speak—at the end of history.