August 15: Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption-A A +A
By Luci Lizares
Thursday, August 16, 2012
On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly declared: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: 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.”
This proclamation is considered by Roman Catholic theologians to be an ex cathedra use of Papal Infallibility. This was declared the day after the closing of the 8th International Marian Congress, held that year in Piazza of St Peter’s in Rome in the presence of 40 Cardinals, 500 bishops, thousands of priests, and close to one million lay persons.
The exact words of the dogma of faith definition, extracted from the Bull “Munificentissimus Deus,” leaves open the question of whether the Virgin Mary died before her assumption or whether she was assumed before death; both possibilities are allowed. Mary's assumption is said to have been a divine gift to her as the “Mother of God.” Ludwig Ott's view is that as Mary completed her life as a shining example to the human race, the perspective of the gift of assumption is offered to the whole human race.
Just as Mary received Christ on earth so Christ in turn received Mary in heaven. The place of the Mother of God is in the splendors of eternal glory in heaven and not in the gloom of the sepulcher.
“The womb that bore Jesus Christ, the hands that caressed him, the arms that embraced him, the breasts that nourished him, the heart that so loved him — it is impossible to think that these crumbled into dust” (Father Canice, OFM Cap.).
Ancient belief in the Assumption was based on the Christian conviction that Christ willed His holy Mother to participate in all His prerogatives. His divine dignity presupposes and demands such perfection in his Mother. The flesh of Mary was the Flesh of Christ; and Christ owed it to himself to preserve from dissolution the body that had served to form his own Body. Mary's body, like her soul, had to be sinless and undefiled. The humiliation of the Mother would have been the humiliation of the Son.
There was a solid and deep-rooted conviction among the first Christians that something extraordinary had happened to Our Lady at the moment of her departure from this life. This found expression in writings, sermons, devotional practices, and prayers to Mary "assumed into heaven," with churches, religious orders, cities and nations dedicated or consecrated to her under the title of Assumption.
Historical Data states that at no time in history has Christendom venerated a grave or tomb of the Blessed Virgin. Until the 5th century of Christianity, there was not even a legend concerning her place of burial. There is absolutely no relic of Our Lady's body in existence; nor has any person or city ever claimed possession of such a relic.
From the earliest ages of the Church, the faithful venerated the remains of the saints, and in instances even strove for the honor of possessing them. Relics of the Apostles and of thousands of martyrs are preserved in richly adorned shrines and caskets. There are no sacred remains of Mary ever. While the human remains and final resting places of key figures like St Peter or St Paul would become shrines and centers of pilgrimage, in the case of the Blessed Mother of Jesus—the most honored figure of all besides Our Lord Himself—there is no known final resting place, no relics to venerate.
In the first sixteen centuries of Christianity no reputable theologian or school of theology ever questioned the dogma of the Assumption. It is notable how theologians have been more unanimous in accepting the Assumption.
The first person known to have asked what happened to Mary's body was St. Epiphanius. He was a 4th century Bishop, close to the scene of events, who had devoted himself seriously to the study of Mary's death. On the occasion of the controversy against the Antidico-Marianites, opponents of Mary's virginity, he apparently had no knowledge of even the existence of a tradition concerning the end of Mary's life. In fact, he seemed to be of the opinion—as are many Mariologists today—that Our Lady did not die.
Whether Mary died or not, the most telling verification of the Assumption by Catholics can be found, not so much in learned theological treatises or definitive doctrinal statements, however necessary these are, but per medium of Mary's many apparitions which the Church has declared worthy of belief—Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima, and so many others. These appearances of Our Lady in a glorified body themselves have lent strong—if indirect—support to the reality of the Assumption.
The Assumption is important to many Catholic and Orthodox Christians as the Virgin Mary's heavenly birthday (the day that Mary was received into Heaven). Her acceptance into the glory of Heaven is seen as the symbol of the promise made by Jesus to all enduring Christians that they too will be received into paradise.
“O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of God and Mother of Men — we believe with all the fervor of our Faith in your triumphal Assumption, both in body and soul, into heaven where you are acclaimed as Queen of all the choirs of 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 our love.” (From the Assumption Prayer of Pope Pius XII)
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 16, 2012.