MARY: “HAND MADE” by God – Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Solemnities are of the highest degree in the liturgy of the Church and are usually reserved for the most important mysteries of faith. The word comes from Latin sollemnitas, derived from sollus (whole) and annus (year), indicating an annual celebration. There are 17 solemnities inscribed in the General Roman calendar which are observed throughout the Latin Church . The Assumption of the BVM, is one of the seventeen.
On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII formally defined and promulgated the dogma of the Assumption in his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus. The world was living in a post-World War II era and the Pope clearly wanted to express his hope that meditation on Mary’s assumption would lead the faithful to a greater awareness of our common dignity as the human family.
Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith: “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, (note the silence regarding her death) was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.” The Church never explicitly says Mary did not die.
Make no mistake; Pope Pius XII did not just wake up one day to pronounce this definition as claimed by the Pentecostals. The tradition of the Assumption goes back to as early as the sixth century when we find homilies on the Assumption. In 749 St. John Damascene recorded an interesting story concerning the Assumption: “St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven” (Second Homily on the Dormition of Mary)
In the following centuries, the Eastern Churches to hold on to the doctrine. The Byzantine Emperor Mauritius (582-602) established the celebration of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15 for the Eastern Church. (Some historians speculate that the celebration was already widespread before the Council of Ephesus in 431.)
By the end of the sixth century, the West likewise celebrated the Feast of the Assumption. While the Church first emphasized the death of Mary, gradual shifts in both title and content occurred, so that by the end of the eighth century, the Gregorian Sacramentary had prayers for Assumption Day. The feast was celebrated under various names–Commemoration, Dormition, Passing and finally, the Assumption.
While there is no explicit scriptural text regarding the Assumption, It is agreed upon, that Mary’s earthly life ended in Jerusalem, or perhaps in Ephesus. But does that mean that because there is no scriptural evidence the Assumption is a hoax?
There is what might be called, the negative historical proof for Mary’s Assumption. It is easy to document that, from Christianity’s earliest days; Christians gave homage to saints, including many about whom we now know little or nothing. Cities vied for the title of the last resting place of the most famous saints. Rome, for example, houses the tombs of Peter and Paul, Peter’s tomb being under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
In the early Christian centuries relics of saints were zealously guarded and highly prized. The bones of those martyred in the Coliseum, for instance, were quickly gathered up and preserved—there are many accounts of this in the biographies of those who gave their lives for the faith.
On Mary, the sinless one, is conferred this great honour of being assumed into heaven. Make no mistake this is not to be understood or equated with the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus did not need any one to ‘take Him up’, for He is God; Jesus raised himself up. The Assumption was a singular blessing shown to Mary by Jesus her saviour and son. She was lifted up by Jesus.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Mother of the Church; a woman who was truly the ‘hand maid ‘of the Lord; for He made her, fashioned in His heart and made with His own hands .