THE SOLEMNITY IF THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY INTO HEAVEN
This past week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, an important feast day for Catholic Christians for many reasons: for the glorification of God, the completion of His redemptive work and the theology of the Incarnation to name a few. But what does it mean for our personal faith journeys? The doctrines and dogmas of our church must have practical effects in our faith lives, and the Assumption is no exception. We will begin with a bit of background.
History of the Assumption:
The Feast of the Assumption is a very old feast of the Church, celebrated universally by the sixth century. The feast was originally celebrated in the East, where it is known as the Feast of the Dormition, a word which means "the falling asleep." The earliest printed reference to the belief that Mary's body was assumed into Heaven dates from the fourth century, in a document entitled "The Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God." The document is written in the voice of the Apostle John, to whom Christ on the Cross had entrusted the care of His mother, and recounts the death, laying in the tomb, and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Tradition variously places Mary's death at Jerusalem or at Ephesus, where John was living.
A Required Belief:
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church. On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII, exercising papal infallibility, declared in Munificentissimus Deus that it is a dogma of the Church "that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." As a dogma, the Assumption is a required belief of all Catholics; anyone who publicly dissents from the dogma, Pope Pius declared, "has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith."
While the Eastern Orthodox believe in the Dormition, they object to the papal definition of the dogma, seeing it as unnecessary, since belief in Mary's bodily assumption, tradition holds, goes back to apostolic times.
Pope Pius XII, in the text explaining his definition of the dogma of the Assumption, refers repeatedly to the Blessed Virgin's death before her Assumption, and the consistent tradition in both the East and the West holds that Mary did die before she was assumed into Heaven. However, since the definition of the Assumption is silent on this question, Catholics can legitimately believe that Mary did not die before the Assumption.
Why it is important
The Assumption offers us additional assurance that we too, who have been baptized into Christ’s death and shared in His Body through the Eucharist, also will experience a resurrection of our bodies. Christ wasn’t the exception for the human race in this sense. Rather, He points the way forward to a greater, more glorious future in which we are all invited to share. This is reinforced by the truth that already another one from the human race has already followed Him into Heaven--Mary.
God bless Fr Jim