As time went on, I began to have a greater understanding of the dogma, especially in regards to the historical testimony of the belief. (Hint, those protestants who claim it was invented in the 7th or 8th century really gotta do their homework better.) Yet if you were to ask me where the Assumption fit into the overall plan of salvation history, my answer wasn't always a strong one. I would say that we accepted it not as much as a dogma but as a fact of history, based on the authority of the Catholic Church.
It was only over the past few years as I began to study John Paul II's Catechises on Human Love (or Man and Woman He Created Them/Theology of the Body ) that I came to a greater understanding of the teaching. The Assumption became more than just a historical fact for me: it became essential to the status of man in the Gospel.
*The answer I'm giving here won't be sufficient for Protestants. In order to believe as I do, you have to believe in the Immaculate Conception. You have to believe that Mary, by a singular grace from God, because of her position as the chosen vessel of the Redeemer, was preserved from the stain of original sin. As a result, she lived her life without sin. With that established, let's move forward.*
One of the building blocks of TOB is that man (as male and female) was initially created for union with God, and that sin damages this union. What if Adam and Eve had never sinned? More often than not, we dismiss dealing in such hypothetical situations, akin to wondering what would've happened had Justin Verlander showed up in the World Series in 2012. It's pointless to ponder: we can't change the past.
This attitude isn't Catholic. If we Catholics do anything, it is ponder counterfactuals constantly. We've been around for over 2,000 years. Sometimes we get bored! During that boredom, we come across occasional feats of genius. The Catechism of St. Pius X did so when it stated the following:
39 Q. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, would they have been exempt from death? A. If Adam and Eve had not sinned and if they had remained faithful to God, they would, after a happy and tranquil sojourn here on earth, and without dying, have been transferred by God into Heaven, to enjoy a life of unending glory.A lot of theological debate has happened over the years about the whole "without dying" part (Hint: it really depends on what "Dying" means) that we are going to ignore for the time being. Since man was ultimately made for union with God and meant to return to God (that lovely passage from Leo XIII's Libertas I try to quote at least once a month here), even before the fall, our final destination was heaven. Eventually, our time on earth would end, and we would come to heaven.
As we know, sin changed all that. Due to our disobedience, we were robbed of our original innocence (they were naked and not ashamed), concupiscence entered the world, and man had a natural inclination to rebel against God's commands. We were held in bondage by this until Christ came and sacrificed himself on the cross. Even then, the final purging of sin only happens when our life ends and we go to heaven when we undergo purgation. (1 Cor 3:15)
How does the Blessed Virgin fit into this? We Catholics know she didn't sin. As a result, the words of the Catechism quoted above apply to the Blessed Virgin. At the end of her life (though watching the slaughter of your son does not qualify as happy!), she was transferred by God into Heaven. (Whether or not she physically died is again something we are ignoring as it mostly is a matter of semantics as to what "death" means.) Far from worshipping Mary in the Assumption, we are simply acknowledging the following timeless truths:
1.) Man was made for union with God in Heaven.
2.) Sin damaged that union.
3.) Christ restored the path to that union.
4.) Since Mary did not sin, after three was accomplished, one was the only logical outcome.
When we defend the Assumption, we are defending this original plan God had, and defending our ultimate destination when we are purged from sin. I find it interesting that if you read the Wednesday audiences in line with Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, and Catholic Traiditon, you can learn these kinds of things, and much more. Today’s TOB commentariat is really holding themselves back by not doing this.