On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly defined as a dogma of faith Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven. The precise words of the definition, found in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus, are; “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.” By this solemn declaration, the Church sets in concrete as a matter of Catholic Faith, a truth that has been believed from the beginning, as Divinely revealed, witnessed either implicitly or explicitly by Sacred Scripture or its Sacred Living Tradition.
Mary’s bodily assumption is implied in Scriptures, but it has always also been long held by the Church on the basis of theological reasoning and her Living Tradition; that Our Lord takes His mother to Himself from the moment of her passage from this life, since she is declared “full of grace” or “highly favoured daughter” of God the Father (Lk 1:28). St. Paul’s teaches: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Cor 15:54). Just as Christ’s glorious Resurrection was the essential agent of this victory, so also Mary, the new Eve who had so great and indispensable a role in the struggle, should most fittingly share in the victory of her Son over sin and death through her glorification. The great Scholastic theologians of the 13th centuries, Sts. Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventure, considered the Assumption to be “the fulfillment of that most perfect grace granted to the Blessed Virgin and the special blessing that countered the curse of Eve.”
The feast of the Assumption was celebrated as early as the seventh century. After the 1950 declaration, it is celebrated as a holy day of obligation on August 15. Besides Christmas and Easter, it is the only Holy Day of Obligation for New Zealand that does not fall on a Sunday (although, like this year, when it falls on a Saturday, it is shifted to Sunday!)
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God. Fr Michael