When first visiting Santa Maria del Trastevere in Rome my eye was immediately drawn to mosaics above the altar depicting the life of Mary, Mother of God. A new discovery held me captive, the image of the Dormition of Mary (or the Death of Mary.) As I gazed at the image of Mary’s soul being held in the arms of the Risen Jesus, I saw a new image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Risen Jesus was holding Mary in a maternal pose usually associated with depictions of Mary as Madonna holding the infant Jesus. It was as if all the scriptural passages speaking of God’s loving as a mother were expressed in this icon.
Not only does this image lead us into the mystery of the maternal love of God, that nurturing, warm, tender, all-forgiving, consoling Heart of Jesus, but it also reminds us of the transformational power of God’s love. We see the “glorified Mary” in the arms of Jesus. Consider what the fullness of love in the Heart of Jesus, source of all love, can be! It is by opening our own hearts in faith and silence before God that we are transformed into the image of God, the imago Dei, which Christian spirituality has always seen as the destiny of human beings.
As we look further at the icon of Mary’s Dormition, we simultaneously see her bodily death and her risen life sharing in the glory, the doxa, or luminous, attracting and radiant life of God. The mystery of the Dormition of Mary in Christian art is a reminder not only of the moment of death, but also the ever present little deaths which call us to “live no longer for ourselves but for others” (cf 2Cor 5:15). It is our mission to discover and reveal the love of God, and to radiate the very love of His Heart to our world.
~ Muriel Cameron, RSCJ