Today’s great Marian feast, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a day with joyful implications for all of us.
The Assumption celebrates Mary having been taken into heaven, body and soul, at the end of her earthly life, an event that is believed to have occurred in either Jerusalem or Ephesus. It is one of four Marian dogmas, or divinely revealed truths, the others being the Divine Motherhood, the Perpetual Virginity and the Immaculate Conception.
Because it is not specifically mentioned in Scripture, what we know of the Assumption stems from tradition, the truths upon which the Church is based, handed down from the original apostles, with their first-hand witness of Christ, to the Church today.
The Assumption began as a feast day in the Eastern Church, after the Council of Ephesus in 431 proclaimed Mary to be the Mother of God. By the 6th century, the feast marked was known as the Dormition, or Mary’s falling asleep.
Commemoration of Mary’s assumption in the Western Church soon followed, with the Church Fathers stressing that because Mary was born without original sin, she would not experience the normal bodily corruption after death and that God would call her into heaven, “incorrupt and undefiled,” as 6th-century theologian Bishop Theoteknos of Livias expressed it.
A long-held belief of the Church, the Assumption was formally defined by Pope Pius XII on Nov. 1, 1950, in Munificentissimus Deus, which states: “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.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares the Assumption to be Mary’s “singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and anticipation of resurrection of other Christians.” (966)
The Assumption is referred to in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium as “a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.” (68) And that is something to celebrate.