I have another list from ncregister.com to help us celebrate the feast of the patroness this Tuesday, August 15. After last week’s “Ten things…about the Transfiguration”, below is the part one of “The Assumption of Mary: 12 Things to Know and Share”. Next week will be part two. May each of us more fully honor our Lady by deepening our understanding of and belief in her Assumption.
May you know the peace of Christ,
1) What is the Assumption of Mary?
The Assumption of Mary is the teaching 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 [Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus 44].
2) What level of authority does this teaching have?
This teaching was infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950 in the bull Munificentissimus Deus (Latin, “Most Bountiful God”).
As Pius XII explained, this is “a divinely revealed dogma” (ibid.).
This means that it is a dogma in the proper sense. It is thus a matter of faith that has been divinely revealed by God and that has been infallibly proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as such.
3) Does that mean it is an “ex cathedra” statement and that we have to believe it?
Yes. Since it is a dogma defined by the pope (rather than by an ecumenical council, for example), it is also an “ex cathedra” statement (one delivered “from the chair” of Peter).
Because it is infallibly defined, it calls for the definitive assent of the faithful.
Pope John Paul II explained:
The definition of the dogma, in conformity with the universal faith of the People of God, definitively excludes every doubt and calls for the express assent of all Christians [General Audience, July 2, 1997].
Note that all infallibly defined teachings are things we are obliged to believe, even if they aren’t defined “ex cathedra” (by the pope acting on his own).
The bishops of the world teaching in union with the pope (either in an ecumenical council or otherwise) can also infallibly define matters, but these aren’t called “ex cathedra” since that term refers specifically to the exercise of the pope’s authority as the successor of St. Peter. (It’s Peter’s cathedra or “chair” that symbolizes the pope’s authority.)
4) Does the dogma require us to believe that Mary died?
It is the common teaching that Mary did die. In his work, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott lists this teaching as sententia communior (Latin, “the more common opinion”).
Although it is the common understanding of that Mary did die, and although her death is referred to in some of the sources Pius XII cited in Munificentissimus Deus, he deliberately refrained from defining this as a truth of the faith.
John Paul II noted:
On 1 November 1950, in defining the dogma of the Assumption, Pius XII avoided using the term “resurrection” and did not take a position on the question of the Blessed Virgin’s death as a truth of faith.
The Bull Munificentissimus Deus limits itself to affirming the elevation of Mary’s body to heavenly glory, declaring this truth a “divinely revealed dogma.”
5) Why should Mary die if she was free from Original Sin and its stain?
Being free of Original Sin and its stain is not the same thing as being in a glorified, deathless condition.
Jesus was also free of Original Sin and its stain, but he could—and did—die.
Expressing a common view among theologians, Ludwig Ott writes:
For Mary, death, in consequence of her freedom from original sin and from personal sin, was not a consequence of punishment of sin.
However, it seems fitting that Mary’s body, which was by nature mortal, should be, in conformity with that of her Divine Son, subject to the general law of death.
6) What are the earliest surviving references to Mary’s Assumption?
John Paul II noted:
The first trace of belief in the Virgin’s Assumption can be found in the apocryphal accounts entitled Transitus Mariae [Latin, “The Crossing Over of Mary”], whose origin dates to the second and third centuries.
These are popular and sometimes romanticized depictions, which in this case, however, pick up an intuition of faith on the part of God’s People.