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FAQs About the Assumption of Mary

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,

Fr Greg

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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.

10 things you need to know about Jesus’ Transfiguration

“10 things you need to know about Jesus’ Transfiguration” is a handy online piece below from National Catholic Register as we celebrate this great today. While the author focuses on St. Luke’s account of this glorious event, today’s Gospel is from St. Matthew. One point about Matthew’s depiction of the Transfiguration is that Jesus is mainly presented as the new Moses. Also, #2 below focuses on this as an experience of the Kingdom which coincides with all of the parables of recent weeks about the Kingdom. I hope and pray that like Peter, James, and John, we all have a glimpse of the glory of Christ which will help our faith in tough times.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

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1. What does the word “transfiguration” mean?

The word “transfiguration” comes from the Latin roots trans– (“across”) and figura (“form, shape”). It thus signifies a change of form or appearance. This is what happened to Jesus in the event known as the Transfiguration: His appearance changed and became glorious.

2. What happened right before the Transfiguration?

In Luke 9:27, at the end of a speech to the twelve apostles, Jesus adds, enigmatically: “There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” This has often been taken as a prophecy that the end of the world would occur

before the first generation of Christians died out. The phrase “kingdom of God” can also refer to other things, though, including the Church–the outward expression of God’s invisible kingdom. The kingdom is embodied in Christ himself and thus might be “seen” if Christ were to manifest it in an unusual way, even in his own earthly life.

3. Did such a manifestation occur?

Yes, and it is the very next thing that Luke relates: The Transfiguration. Some—that is to say, the three disciples who accompany Jesus up the mountain—are promised that they will personally witness the coming of the Kingdom of God ‘in power.’ On the mountain, the three of them see the glory of God’s Kingdom shining out of Jesus…We thus may have the key to understanding Jesus’ mysterious statement just before the Transfiguration. He wasn’t talking about the end of the world. He was talking about this.

4. Who witnessed the Transfiguration?

The three who are privileged to witness the event are Peter, James, and John, the three core disciples. (Andrew was not there or not included.)…

5. Where did the Transfiguration take place?

Luke states that Jesus took the three “on the mountain to pray.” This mountain is often thought to be Mt. Tabor in Israel, but none of the gospels identify it precisely…

6. Why did the Transfiguration take place?

The Catechism explains it this way:

Christ’s Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent onto the ‘high mountain’ prepares for the ascent to Calvary.

Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: ‘the hope of glory’ [CCC 568].

7. What does Luke–in particular–tell us about this event?

Luke mentions several details about the event that the other evangelists do not:

  • • He notes that this happened while Jesus was praying.
  • He mentions that Peter and his companions “were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.”
  • He mentions that Peter made his suggestion to put up booths as Moses and Elijah were departing.

8. Why do Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain?

Moses and Elijah represent the two principal components of the Old Testament: the Law and the Prophets. Moses was the giver of the Law, and Elijah was considered the greatest of the prophets. The fact that these two figures “spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” illustrates that the Law and the Prophets point forward to the Messiah and his sufferings. This foreshadows Jesus’ own explanation, on the road to Emmaus, of the Scriptures pointing to himself (cf. Lk. 24:27, 32).

9. Why was Peter’s suggestion misguided?

The fact that Peter’s suggestion occurs when Moses and Elijah are preparing to depart reveals a desire to prolong the experience of glory. This means Peter is focusing on the wrong thing. The experience of the Transfiguration is meant to point forward to the sufferings Jesus is about to experience. It is meant to strengthen the disciple’s faith, revealing to them in a powerful way the divine hand that is at work in the events Jesus will undergo. This is why Moses and Elijah have been speaking “about his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Peter misses the point and wants to stay on the mountain, contrary to the message the two heavenly visitors have been expounding…

10. What can we learn from this event?

The Transfiguration was a special event in which God allowed certain apostles to have a privileged spiritual experience that was meant to strengthen their faith for the challenges they would later endure. But it was only a temporary event. It was not meant to be permanent. In the same way, at certain times in this life, God may give certain members of the faithful (not all of the faithful, all the time), special experiences of his grace that strengthen their faith…