The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
By Fr. J. Heyrman S.J.
THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY
1. On the feast of All Saints, November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII, in the presence of 600 Cardinals and Bishops, and of hundreds of thousands of devout pilgrims who had flocked to Rome from every part of the world, solemnly proclaimed that Mary’s assumption into heaven is a dogma of the Catholic faith. This was, after many centuries, the infallible confirmation of a revealed truth, by which the Church had lived from the beginning. It was also the glorious fulfilling of Mary’s prophecy when she cried out, “Behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty hath done great things to me” (Luke 1: 48, 49).
On this feast of All Saints the whole Church joyfully praised the Lord: the Church Triumphant, because of the homage paid that day on earth to the Queen of heaven; the Church Militant, because of the glorious accomplishment in Mary of that work of salvation of which one day we shall all be partakers.
2. Petition: The grace to be strengthened by the hope of this blessed consummation; by her powerful intercession “may we one day deserve to be partakers of her glory”.
I. The Mystery
The life of Mary was a succession of “great things”, done to her in the most profound silence, by the Almighty. The first of these was her conception without original sin, and the last (in truth the consequence of the first) her bodily assumption into heaven.
Mary, a daughter of Adam, was a member of our fallen race. But God, almighty and all-holy, had preserved His future Mother from the hereditary stain that cleaves to the soul of every man who is born. Did He also preserve her from death, which is the penalty of sin? Or did she too, like her Divine Son and Saviour, taste death? And did she, like Him, and through His resurrection, triumph over death and rise again? Pius XII uses the following words in the Bull, which proclaims the dogma: “After accomplishing her earthly career, she was, with body and soul, assumed into the glory of heaven.” Mary therefore, the new Eve, was completely restored to that state, in which Adam and Eve had been created, whose destiny it was that, without returning into dust, “they should, after their earthly career, enter with body and soul into the glory of heaven”.
“Christ is risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), and by His own power He ascended into heaven. By His power also, Mary, in whose Virginal womb He had assumed our nature, followed her Son. “Jesus placed at the right hand of God’s glory, our frail human nature, which He had united to His Person” (Communicantes of Ascension). Mary was “assumed into heaven”; she was “led by her Son to the highest heavens”, there, with her glorified body and soul to be seated in His glory.
Mary is Queen of Angels and of Archangels; but she is one of our race, and we salute her, “Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people” (Jdt. 15:10).
II. The Dogma
This dogma, or revealed truth, was by no means a recently revealed, or newly discovered doctrine. It has always been the belief of the Christian people that the holy body of the Mother of God never knew the corruption of the grave, and that this exalted tabernacle of the Divine Word never knew dissolution, nor returned into dust” (Pius XII, Munificentissimus, 1 Nov. 1950).
From the time of the Apostles, guided by the Holy Ghost, the Church kept “this word in her heart, pondering on it”. The first feast in honour of Our Lady was the so-called “Dormition” of Mary, “her falling asleep” which was celebrated in Rome in the fifth century on the 15th of August. (The Annunciation, Christmas, the Purification were chiefly feasts in honour of the Son made man). By study, meditation, and prayer, the Church became more and more conscious of this truth, which had been believed and confessed throughout the centuries: and it became more evident how this doctrine fitted into the divine scheme of salvation. And so the Pope, with the assent of practically every Bishop in the world, was justified “in proclaiming as a revealed truth, that Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, ever Virgin, after completing her earthly career, was assumed with body and soul into the glory of heaven”.
With grateful hearts, great joy, and firm faith, we listen to the Pope’s voice. Only one man on earth could utter such words, because he relies on the infallible authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, who have had mercy on us.
III. The Appropriate Time
Pius XII said, “We feel assured that the hour, chosen by Divine Providence, has now struck, solemnly to proclaim this glorious privilege of the Virgin Mary.” The definition of this dogma was not, as often was the case in the past, the final decision about a point of doctrine, which had been denied or called into question, nor was it the solemn condemnation of an error. In the face of the modern world, with its materialistic conception of life and its headlong pursuit of things that are merely material, in the face of a world, which, is tortured with doubts and fears about the meaning of life, the Pope bids us look up to the glorious figure of the immaculate and virginal Mother of God, “who throughout the world vanquishes all error”.
“And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us, may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will, and doing good to others. We pray that while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from those teachings, threaten to extinguish the light of virtue, and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, all may see clearly what a glorious destiny God has assigned to our bodies and to our souls. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective” (Munificentissimus Deus).
Prayer: “O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of God and Mother of men, we believe with all the fervour of our faith in your triumphal Assumption, both in body and soul, into heaven, where you are acclaimed as Queen by all the choirs of the Angels and all the legions of the Saints; and we unite with them to praise and bless the Lord, who has exalted you above all other pure creatures, and to offer you the tribute of our devotion and love … We are inspired by the certainty that your eyes are yet turned towards this world, held in the clutches of wars, persecutions, oppression of the just and the weak … And from this earth, over which we tread as pilgrims, comforted by our faith in the future resurrection, we look to you, our life, our sweetness and our hope. Draw us onwards with the sweetness of your voice that one day, after our exile, you may show us Jesus, the Blessed Fruit of your womb, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary” (Prayer of Pope Pius XII).