Celebrating the Assumption of Mary
In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in his apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus (God Ineffable or Indescribable). It was about time, for not only had canonized Saints written about it, the Christian faithful since the early Church had already been expressing that article of faith in their traditions, prayers, devotions, sacred images and liturgies.
In his proclamation, Pope Pius XII tied in the dogma of the Assumption with the three preceding Marian dogmas: the Immaculate Conception in 1854 (Pope Pius IX’s Ineffabilis Deus), the Perpetual Virginity of Mary in 649 (Pope Martin I in the Lateran Synod), and Mary the Mother of God in 431 (Council of Ephesus).
The dogma of the Assumption stated that by an entirely unique privilege, the Blessed Virgin Mary overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and therefore she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and that she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body (MD#5). In addition, Mary’s Assumption was in keeping with her dignity as the Mother of God (MD#17), and according to St. John Damascene, just as Mary’s virginity had been kept intact in childbirth, her body should have been kept from all corruption even after death (MD#21).
St. Alfred the Great reaffirmed that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s blessedness would not have been complete unless she was in heaven, in both body and soul. Otherwise, she would not possess her complete beatitude as the Angel Gabriel had annunciated: “Mary, full of grace!” (MD#32).
Hence, the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in an exceptionally unique way with Jesus Christ, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, and the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where she, as Queen, sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages (MD#40).
Perhaps the most compelling proof of what we believe about Mary is her own testimony of faith. The Magnificat is a triumphant proclamation, neither for her own praise nor to glorify her achievements, but solely to reaffirm her own lowliness and her unfailing faith in God’s greatness and mercy towards the humble, the poor and the oppressed. Mary reminds us that it is to God to whom we should give our praise and thanks, and that it is God upon whom we should rely on and be faithful to.
God has scattered the proud in their conceit; He has cast down the mighty and lifted up the lowly. God has made Mary great because of her humility. No words on earth can describe the love and mercy of God upon those who humble themselves before Him. Such is the love and mercy of our ineffable God – Munificentissimus Deus.
As we meditate upon the glorious example of Mary, may we also humbly devote our lives to carry out the heavenly Father’s will and in bringing good to others. Even while materialism, self-indulgence and the corruption of morals in today’s world continue to threaten our quest to live in virtue, may we, through the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, see clearly our true and unadulterated destiny of someday sharing in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
In their homilies and sermons on this feast the holy fathers and the great doctors spoke of the assumption of the Mother of God as something already familiar and accepted by the faithful. They gave it greater clarity in their preaching and used more profound arguments in setting out its nature and meaning. Above all, they brought out more clearly the fact that what is commemorated in this feast is not simply the total absence of corruption from the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary but also her triumph over death and her glorification in heaven, after the pattern set by her only Son, Jesus Christ.
St. John Damascene, preeminent as the great preacher of this truth of tradition, speaks with powerful eloquence when he relates the bodily assumption of the loving Mother of God to her other gifts and privileges: “It was necessary that she who preserved her virginity inviolate in childbirth should also have her body kept free from corruption after death. It was necessary that she who carried the Creator as a child on her breast should dwell in the tabernacles of God. It was necessary that the bride espoused by the Father should make her home in the bridal chambers of heaven. It was necessary that she, who had gazed on her crucified Son and been pierced in the heart by the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in giving him birth, should contemplate him seated with the Father. It was necessary that the Mother of God should share the possessions of her Son, and be venerated by every creature as the Mother and handmaid of God.”
St. Germanus of Constantinople considered that it was in keeping not only with her divine motherhood but also the with unique sanctity of her virginal birth that it was incorrupt and carried up to heaven: “In the words of Scripture, you appear in beauty. Your virginal body is entirely holy, entirely chaste, entirely the house of God, so that for this reason also it is henceforth a stranger to decay: a body changed, because a human body, to a preeminent life of incorruptibility, but still a living body, a body inviolate and sharing in the perfection of life.”
Another early author declares: “Therefore, as the most glorious Mother of Christ, our God and Savior, the giver of life and immortality, she is enlivened by him to share an eternal incorruptibility of body with him who raised her from the tomb and took her to himself in a way he alone can tell.”
All these reasonings and consideration of the holy Fathers rest on Scripture as their ultimate foundation. Scripture portrays the loving Mother of God, almost before our very eyes, as most intimately united with her divine Son and always sharing in his destiny.
Above all, it must be noted that from the second century the holy Fathers present the Virgin Mary as the new Eve, most closely associated with the new Adam, though subject to him in the struggle against the enemy from the nether world. This struggle, as the first promise of a redeemer implies, was to end in perfect victory over sin and death, always linked together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Therefore just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part of this victory and its final trophy, so the struggle shared by the Blessed Virgin and her Son was to end in the glorification of her virginal body. As the same Apostle says: When this mortal body has clothed itself in immortality, then will be fulfilled the word of Scripture: Death is swallowed up in victory.
Hence, the august Mother of God, mysteriously united from all eternity with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a virgin inviolate in her divine motherhood, the wholehearted companion of the divine Redeemer who won complete victory over sin and its consequences, gained, at last the supreme crown of her privileges—to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and, like her Son, when death had been conquered, to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven, there to sit in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the ages.