Our celebration of the Marian Solemnity of the Assumption may be more joyously observed by rediscovering the gems contained in the apostolic constitution, Defining the Dogma of the Assumption. Pope Pius XII signed the document that defined the Assumption of Mary as dogma on November 1, 1950. The world has changed drastically since that era but the truth articulated in this Marian doctrine is a treasury of grace that is relevant to every age.
For reflection we will consider 5 gems contained within the papal document on Mary’s Assumption.
1. The doctrine of Mary’s Assumption into heaven is closely related to the dogma that declared Mary the Mother of God.
Defining these truths about Christ’s Mother and ours helps us to know that we are beloved of God because Mary’s singular privileges are meant to magnify our human dignity. God created Mary to be unique because He loved us and wanted to give us His Son born of a woman full of grace. God created Mary to be the ineffable living tabernacle for the Incarnate Word. The following papal quote is a beautiful explanation of Mary’s exalted state:
4. That privilege (Mary’s) has shone forth in new radiance since our predecessor…solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the loving Mother of God’s Immaculate Conception. These two privileges are most closely bound to one another. Christ overcame sin and death by his own death, and one who through Baptism has been born again in a supernatural way has conquered sin and death through the same Christ. Yet, according to the general rule, God does not will to grant to the just the full effect of the victory over death until the end of time has come. And so it is that the bodies of even the just are corrupted after death, and only on the last day will they be joined, each to its own glorious soul. 5. Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule. She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body.
2. The Holy Spirit was consulted and He brought about a unity of thought concerning Mary.
The Holy Spirit is always present to the Church by inspiration and teaching so the splendor of truth shines forth in its fullness. The truth about Mary reveals the loving sentiments of the Trinitarian heart of God. Mary’s Divine Spouse, the Holy Spirit helps us to encounter Mary from deep within where we desperately need the healing salve of perfect maternal love. The Pope recorded the movement of the Holy Spirit that led to his dogmatic proclamation. In his May 1,1946 letter to all the bishops of the world he inquired about the proclamation of this Marian doctrine and recorded their response:
12.Those whom “the Holy Spirit has placed as bishops to rule the Church of God” gave an almost unanimous affirmative response to both these questions. Thus… the Blessed Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven…is a truth that has been revealed by God and consequently something that must be firmly and faithfully believed by all children of the Church.
3. Mary, throughout the course of her earthy pilgrimage, led a life troubled by cares, hardships and sorrows as well as joys.
The prophecy of Simeon was fulfilled in Mary. No other creature ever achieved such unity of mind and heart with the Triune God. Her yes to God’s initiatives blessed Him and bore fruit for us: the gift of the Incarnate Son of God. At the foot of the Cross Mary experienced mystically the piercing of her Immaculate Heart as her Son expired. She witnessed His pierced Heart pouring forth the blood and water of Redemption. The Pope explains Mary’s earthly pilgrimage:
14. Christ’s faithful, through the teaching and the leadership of their pastors, have learned from the sacred books that the Virgin Mary, throughout the course of her earthly pilgrimage, led a life troubled by cares, hardships, and sorrows, and that, moreover, what the holy old man Simeon had foretold actually came to pass, that is, that a terribly sharp sword pierced her heart as she stood under the cross of her divine Son, our Redeemer. In the same way, it was not difficult for them to admit that the great Mother of God, like her only begotten Son, had actually passed from this life. But this in no way prevented them from believing and from professing openly that her sacred body had never been subject to the corruption of the tomb, and that the august tabernacle of the Divine Word had never been reduced to dust and ashes.
4. Since Mary is the New Eve, God did not will for Mary to experience the curse of Eve.
In the book of Genesis God told the woman (Eve) of the consequence of her sin, one of which is bodily corruption: “until you return to the ground—for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:1-24). God exquisitely distinguishes Mary (The New Eve) by exempting her from bodily corruption as defined by the Pope:
30. When, during the Middle Ages, scholastic theology was especially flourishing, St. Albert the Great who, to establish this teaching, had gathered together many proofs from Sacred Scripture, from the statements of older writers, and finally from the liturgy and from what is known as theological reasoning, concluded in this way: “From these proofs and authorities and from many others, it is manifest that the most blessed Mother of God has been assumed above the choirs of angels. And this we believe in every way to be true.”(29) And, in a sermon which he delivered, …explained the words “Hail, full of grace”-words used by the angel who addressed her…comparing the Blessed Virgin with Eve, stated clearly and incisively that she was exempted from the fourfold curse that had been laid upon Eve.
5. The Church gathers and listens to the testimony of her saints regarding Mary.
The witness of the saints confirms our faith, fills us with hope and builds up our love. In hearing the witness of others our heart burns with zeal for God’s wonderful prerogatives. Pius XII included the testimony of the holy ones in his defining document:
34. Gathering together the testimonies of the Christians of earlier days, St. Robert Bellarmine exclaimed: “And who, I ask, could believe that the ark of holiness, the dwelling place of the Word of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin? My soul is filled with horror at the thought that this virginal flesh which had begotten God, had brought him into the world, had nourished and carried him, could have been turned into ashes or given over to be food for worms.” (38) And St. Alphonsus writes that “Jesus did not wish to have the body of Mary corrupted after death, since it would have redounded to his own dishonor to have her virginal flesh, from which he himself had assumed flesh, reduced to dust.”(39)
The papal document defining the Assumption is composed of 48 paragraphs containing many Marian gems to be mined for prayerful consideration. The Marian gems that we considered for this reflection shine the light of love and beauty of truth into our heart. We have been given the Immaculate Mother of God to be our mother too. Her assumption into heaven is a sign of God’s mercy. He exalted the woman who humbled herself in service to Christ and Church. Upon death, we will be subject to the corruption of our bodies but Mary’s Assumption foreshadows our future glory in God.
Mary, assumed into heaven body and soul, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.