1. Religion & Spirituality
Send to a Friend via Email
Scott P. Richert

The Assumption of Mary: The Greatest Marian Feast

By August 15, 2013

Follow me on:

On August 15, we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (also known as the Dormition among Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox), a Holy Day of Obligation for all Catholics.The Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, Central Russian icon, early 1800's. (Photo © Slava Gallery, LLC; used with permission.) On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII, exercising papal infallibility, declared 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."

Because the declaration of the dogma is so recent, many people have the impression that the Assumption is an innovation, a new idea that Pius XII made up. Nothing could be further from the truth. The whole point of papal infallibility is that the pope, when speaking on matters of faith and morals and intending to instruct the whole Church, is protected by the Holy Spirit and cannot speak in error.

In practice, that means that any infallible statement by a pope must uphold preexisting Catholic doctrine. And that's the case with the doctrine of the Assumption. Not only was the Feast of the Assumption celebrated universally by Christians, East and West, from the sixth century up until the Reformation, but the written record of Christian belief in the Assumption of Mary goes back to the fourth century.

The belief is clearly held even before that. As early as the second century, Christians had begun to venerate the bones of martyrs and saints. Yet at no time did any local Christian church claim to possess the earthly remains of the Blessed Virgin's body, nor has anyone ever claimed to have discovered her tomb.

These are arguments from silence, of course; but knowing the deep respect and devotion in which Christians held the remains of the martyrs and saints, it would be particularly odd for Christians of the first few centuries to have had no interest in relics of the Blessed Virgin. The lack of such interest must be explained another way, and the early, universal belief in the Assumption of Mary is the best explanation.

The Assumption reflects the honor that Christ accorded to His Mother, an honor so great that He did not allow her body to suffer decay after her death. But it also provides us with a foretaste of our own bodily resurrection at the end of time and, thus, confirms our faith and gives us hope. Mary wasn't assumed into Heaven because she was somehow more than human; her Assumption is actually a sign of what it means to be truly human--a condition that is possible only through the grace that comes through our faith in Christ.

(The Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, Central Russian icon, early 1800's. Photo © Slava Gallery, LLC; used with permission.)

More on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Connect With Scott:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Newsletters
Comments
August 16, 2010 at 4:27 pm
(1) Bob Cannon says:

It is indeed an assumption.

I continue to be grieved and marvel at the deception of Mariology. I was raised a devout Marian Catholic and held to these traditions, which only served as distractions from the truth of God’s Word.

“Come out of her, my people” (Revelation 18:4). Come out of Babylon.

August 16, 2011 at 10:55 am
(2) Alf says:

It is when you stray too far from home that you realise that you may be lost without a road map. It is through Mary that you can understand the love that is Jesus.

August 17, 2011 at 12:45 am
(3) Michael says:

Alf

Great words! How can we ignore the intecessory power of our Heavenly mother? We need all the help possible!

August 18, 2011 at 1:19 am
(4) mukesh john macwan says:

YES ITS VERY TRUE.

August 17, 2011 at 12:41 am
(5) Michael says:

Bob, Bob – come on. Read that passage (chapter) of Revelation in its entirety before you use that verse as a verse trying to pertain to our Mother! (Remember, Revelation is a very difficult part of Scripture to grasp, and takes an enormous amount of study.)
Never, ever be grieved by those that honor the mother of our Lord and Savior. Rejoice with them! Love Mary! I challenge you to pray the most Holy Rosary of the Blessed virgin Mary, every day for nine days and reflect on the different mysteries of each day. I promise that you will have a change of heart.

Love

Michael

August 18, 2011 at 1:26 am
(6) MUKESH JOHN MACWAN says:

Yes indeed its very true and Holy to recite the HOLY ROSARY every day cause it will effect on your daily life, and will bring you close tothe HOLY TRINITY.

August 12, 2011 at 10:33 am
(7) Tom Piatak says:

It is indeed a great feast! Thanks for writing this, Scott.

August 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm
(8) ANNE says:

Happyfeast day to all marian devotees!

Daily daily sing to Mary,,,,,,call her mother, call her virgin, happy mpther virgin blest!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

August 18, 2011 at 1:28 am
(9) MUKESH JOHN MACWAN says:

HAPPY FEAST to you and every one on the earth.

August 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm
(10) LuannD says:

I am extremely confused about the Assumption of Mary in the articles I am reading in this newsletter. I was raised in the 50′s and 60′s and attended catholic school throughout. August 15 was a Holy Day of Obligation in observance of the Assumption of Mary. Per beginning paragraph of this article ["On August 15, we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a Holy Day of Obligation for all Catholics. On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII, exercising papal infallibility, declared 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."].

The key words here are PAPAL INFALLIBILITY and DOGMA OF THE CHURCH. There are no caveats because of the day it falls on. I certainly do not see that in Pope Pius XII’s declaration. You attend Mass to fulfull your Holy Day of Obligation. If the Holy Day happens to fall on Saturday or Monday, and you assume you are exempt, you had better assume again!

But the following comments have most Catholics, I am sure, shaking their heads in disbelief. The phrase from the above article, ["The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary commemorates the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven, before her body could begin to decay"] is such an absurd statement I can hardly believe I am reading it, and certainly not what Catholics are taught, believe, or follow [or maybe they are now]. Nowhere or no one believes the Assumption is [that He (Christ) did not allow her body to suffer decay after her death]. Where is this coming from? The Assumption of Mary is the crux of our belief that she, as the Mother of Christ, and [reflects the honor that Christ accorded to His Mother] rose to heaven body and soul, NOT rose to heaven after her death and before decay set in. This, to me, is heretical!

August 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm
(11) Scott P. Richert says:

LuannD, the bishops of the United States received permission from the Vatican to dispense Catholics in the United States from the obligation to attend Mass if the Assumption falls on Saturday or Monday. This isn’t something I made up; in fact, I’d rather that Catholics were never dispensed of their obligation to attend Mass on Holy Days of Obligation. (Likewise, I’d prefer that the celebration of important feasts such as Ascension were never transferred to the following Sunday.) My family and I are members of a Traditional Latin Mass parish; we will be at Mass on Monday. But Catholics in the United States are not required to attend Mass on Monday, no matter what you or I would prefer.

August 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm
(12) Scott P. Richert says:

As for my “heretical” passage, I’m afraid the matter is a little more complicated than you’d like to make it. In the East, dormition (the “falling asleep”) is used to describe this feast, and because of that many Christians believe that Mary did not die but like Elijah was taken up into Heaven before she could actually die.

In the West, however, the consistent tradition has been that Mary was assumed into Heaven at the moment of her death—but that she did indeed die. You are correct that there’s no reason to assume that her soul was sundered from her body, but nothing I wrote suggests that.

The first section of the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia entry on the Assumption (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02006b.htm) begins “Regarding the day, year, and manner of Our Lady’s death . . . ” The preamble to the entry notes that the feast was “also called in old liturgical books Pausatio, Nativitas (for heaven), Mors, Depositio, Dormitio S. Mariae.” I’ve already mentioned the last one (the Dormition); what may not be obvious (except perhaps for mors) is that the other titles are all traditional Christian terms describing death.

Finally, even a cursory reading of
Munificentissimus Deus
, Pius XII’s declaration of the dogma of the Assumption, will confirm what I have written. Over and over again, citing the Church Fathers and liturgical texts, both East and West, Pius refers to the Blessed Virgin’s death. You can read the entire document at the link in the last sentence; here is simply one sentence that confirms what I wrote: “this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death, her heavenly glorification after the example of her only begotten Son, Jesus Christ . . .”

August 18, 2011 at 1:31 am
(13) MUKESH JOHN MACWAN says:

I AM WITH YOUR WORDS.

August 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm
(14) Reginald Smith says:

In the same way that I lament the loss of a common language for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, I am, well, puzzled in that the Church doesn’t have the same days of Obligation everywhere. Here in Canada we only have two that have not been transferred.
Per The Catholic Liturgical Library:
In Canada:
“… all Sundays of the year, Christmas Day, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God.

The feasts of the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) will be transferred to the following Sunday.”

August 15, 2011 at 2:19 am
(15) Mary42 says:

As an modest old Cradle Catholic lady, my firm belief concerning the Assumption of our Lady does not even lie with the writings or the Doctrine of the Early Church – though this is certainly very essential. It is consonant to the Genesis. When Adam and Even disobeyed God, they were told they would surely die. Death, therefore, is the result of the Original Sin. To me it follows that since the Holy Mother of God was born without the Stain of Original Sin, her body could not die and perish. Therefore, the Feast of the Assumption – and my Mother Parish is Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Parish – has always been an Act of Faith. Intellectual prowess cannot explain the Mysteries of God or the Mystery of our Salvation. But I certainly do not expect Bob Cannon to countenance this Feast as an Act of Faith or the Holiness of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as the true Church established by Jesus Christ Himself and in which the Holy Spirit subsists to guide Her as She proclaims the Revealed Truth of God

August 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm
(16) Cllr Chris Burke says:

Thanks for that Scott, in an uncertain world its good to have you around. I am inclined to challenge preconceptions in all manner of areas however I have always felt that the Holy Spirit guides us in this area of Our Lady. I have had a few friends over the years from traditions other than ours who sense there is something here the wider Christian community lost at the Reformation. At a recent Islamic event here in Lincolnshire I encountered a number of Muslims who reminded me that many of them have discussions about the nature of Jesus.

Keep up the good work.

August 15, 2012 at 3:51 pm
(17) jim in colorado says:

For Bob: Do you really think that Jesus would be upset at you if you showed honor, respect and gratitude to His Holy Mother? Remember that Catholics do not worship Mary for only the LORD God is worthy of worship. Check out the liturgy of the Holy Mass, for it is imbued with Glory , Honor and Praise to the Father, Son and Holy spirit. Also, call to mind the Scripture that Jesus spoke to Peter the first pope; “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church”, and that “He who hears Peter hears Him” and “He will lead the Church into all Truth. “God Bless you Bob.

September 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm
(18) Ben says:

Just a little correction, the death of mary is [b]NOT[/b] recognised as a revealed truth or a dogma in the west, infact the vatican allows theologian debate for or against, pope pius believed mary died but when giving his dogmatic statement he skillfully exempted the word death he say “after completing her earth sojourn” and in like words. As regards the death of mary catholic are free to express their opinions either for or against. I believe bl jp 2′s personal opinion was prodeath.
Peace

July 8, 2013 at 8:31 am
(19) Scott P. Richert says:

Ben, I did not say that the death of Mary is “recognised as a revealed truth or a dogma in the west.” I said that “In the West . . . the consistent tradition has been that Mary was assumed into Heaven at the moment of her death—but that she did indeed die.”

There is a difference between a consistent tradition and a dogma that is beyond debate.

You are right, though, about Pope Pius’s words in the dogmatic declaration. As the quotation that I presented earlier shows, rather than “skillfully exempt[ing] the word death” he did indeed more than imply earlier in the encyclical that Mary had died: “this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death, her heavenly glorification after the example of her only begotten Son, Jesus Christ . . . ” (emphasis mine).

In this, Pius was consistent with the Western tradition, but this line is not part of the dogmatic declaration itself, so holding either opinion is acceptable.

August 15, 2013 at 7:54 pm
(20) GRACE says:

PLEASE VISIT PRO-GOSPEL.ORG

August 15, 2013 at 9:36 pm
(21) Reginald says:

Grace,
Thanks for your concern. I checked that web site. It is lacking the guidance of the Holy Spirit as it is trying to figure out Divine Truths without the aid of the Church that Jesus established.
I am a convert to the Catholic Church. Jesus created a Church that teaches with authority, not one with thousands of differing opinions based on individual interpretations of the bible it assembled.
That is a dangerous web site for anyone weak in their faith.
- Reg.

August 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm
(22) Vluk says:

It is true that Pope Pius XII declared that the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary as official dogma. However in 495 AD Pope Gelasius declared the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary as a heresy, later in the 16 century Pope Hormisdas also declared that this belief is heresy and anyone teaching it are heretics.

If so called “infallible” Popes are going to contradict each other like this how will we know which ones speak the truth and can be trusted?

August 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm
(23) Reginald says:

Vluk,
What is the source of your claims?
First of all it is illogical. As a friend once told me “One Pope cannot and never has contradicted an Infallible truth taught by a Pope.”
As for what Pope Gelasius said, IF he said that he would have been declaring a book called The Assumption of Mary as apocryphal.
See http://www.tertullian.org/decretum_eng.htm.

August 27, 2013 at 12:18 pm
(24) Vluk says:

I have come across quite a few sources concerning this issue. Here is the latest one:

“First Taught by Heretics

So, how did this teaching originate, given that it is absent in the Sacred Scriptures and in the tradition of the early Church? The belief of the assumption is based on apocryphal and spurious writings.

“The belief in the corporeal assumption of Mary is founded on the apocryphal treatise De Obitu S. Dominae, bearing the name of St. John, which belongs however to the fourth or fifth century. It is also found in the book De Transitu Virginis, falsely ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis, and in a spurious letter attributed to St. Denis the Areopagite” (Catholic Encyclopaedia).

The first church author to speak on the assumption, Gregory of Tours, based his teaching on the Transitus, perhaps because he accepted it as genuine.[4] However, in 459 A.D. Pope Gelasius issued a decree that officially condemned and rejected the Transitus along with several other heretical writings. Pope Hormisdas reaffirmed this decree in the sixth century.[5] It is ironic that this heretical teaching was later promoted within the Catholic Church, until eventually it was proclaimed a dogma in the twentieth century.”

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02006b.htm

August 27, 2013 at 1:02 pm
(25) Scott P. Richert says:

Vluk, the link that you include to the Catholic Encyclopedia does not contain the text that you quoted. You’re obviously pulling that text from elsewhere; please provide the source.

Pope Gelasius, as Reginald correctly points out, simply declared that the document called The Assumption of Mary (or, in the quotation that you present, De Transitu Virginis) is apocryphal. That does not mean that the document is heretical, much less that the doctrine is. The Protoevangelium of James, for instance, is another apocryphal document from which the Church has received many traditions concerning Saint Joseph and the parents of the Blessed Virgin. That such documents do not have the same authority as Scripture does not mean that they do not express truth.

August 27, 2013 at 3:39 pm
(26) Vluk says:

Apologies, here is the correct link

http://www.justforcatholics.org/assumption.htm

August 27, 2013 at 4:15 pm
(27) Scott P. Richert says:

Well, Vluk, I’d go take a look at the site, but it’s currently offline. Google, however, offers this description of the site: “An Evangelical site dedicated to Roman Catholics who want to know how to be saved according to the Scriptures.”

So, tell us, Vluk—are you a Catholic trying to learn about the Assumption, or a non-Catholic trying to convert Catholics? In either case, as I mentioned in my earlier comment, the material you quoted is simply incorrect, and Reginald has it right. At the very time that Pope Gelasius said that the De Transitu Virginis was apocryphal, the Eastern Churches had had the Dormition of the Virgin on their calendar for a couple of centuries, and the Church at Rome—Gelasius’s Church—had adopted the feast.

Understanding these distinctions—how apocrypha differs from Scripture, and why something can be apocrypha without being heretical—is essential for anyone who wants to understand the history of doctrine in the Christians churches, and not just the Catholic Church.

August 27, 2013 at 4:25 pm
(28) Reginald says:

Vluk,

That link didn’t work for me. I did a search and found it to be filled with heresy.

The purpose of that web site is to pull Christians away from the Church that Jesus Himself established. It is not to be trusted. Jesus gave authority to His Church. Please only trust Catholic sources when trying to understand dogma not obvious in the bible.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.