According to the belief of Christians of the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches and by some Anglicans, the Assumption of Mary was the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her life. The Catholic Church teaches as dogma that Mary, "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." This doctrine was dogmatically and infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus. This belief is known as the Dormition by the Orthodox. In the churches which observe it, the Assumption is a major festival, commonly celebrated on August 15. In many countries it is a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation.
In his August 15, 2004, homily given at Lourdes, Pope John Paul II quoted John 14:3 as one of the scriptural bases for understanding the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. In this verse, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also." According to Catholic theology, Mary is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ's promise.
The feast day of the Assumption on August 15 is a public holiday in many countries, including Lebanon, Italy, Malta, Belgium, Portugal, France, Spain, Greece and Chile. In East Orthodox churches following the Julian Calendar, the feast day of Assumption of Mary falls on August 28, and is also a public holiday in the Republic of Macedonia.
Although the Assumption (Latin: assūmptiō, "taken up") was only relatively recently defined as infallible dogma by the Catholic Church, and in spite of a statement by Epiphanius of Salamis in AD 377 that no one knew of the eventual fate of Mary, apocryphal accounts of the assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since at least the 4th century. The Catholic Church itself interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to it. The earliest known narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary's Repose), a narrative which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation. Probably composed by the 4th century, this early Christian apocryphal narrative may be as early as the 3rd century. Also quite early are the very different traditions of the "Six Books" Dormition narratives.: The earliest versions of this apocryphon are preserved by several Syriac manuscripts of the 5th and 6th centuries, although the text itself probably belongs to the 4th century.
Later apocrypha based on these earlier texts include the De Orbiyu S. Dominae, attributed to Saint John, a work probably from around the turn of the 6th century that is a summary of the "Six Books" narrative. The story also appears in De Transitu Virginis, a late 5th century work ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis that presents a theologically redacted summary of the traditions in the Liber Requiei Mariae. The Transitus Mariae tells the story of the apostles being transported by white clouds to the deathbed of Mary, each from the town where he was preaching at the hour. The Decretum Gelasianum in the 490s declared some transitus Mariae literature apocryphal.
An Armenian letter attributed to Dionysus the Areopagite also mentions the event, although this is a much later work, written sometime after the 6th century. John of Damascus, from this period, is the first church authority to advocate the doctrine under his own name; he had been brought up in an environment in which a corporeal ascent of Muhammad into heaven was official policy, since he, and his father before him, held the post of imperial chancellor of the Islamic empire of the Umayyads, and Muhammed's ascent into heaven is the subject of the Night Journey, a Surah in the Qur'an. His contemporaries, Gregory of Tours and Modestus of Jerusalem, helped promote the concept to the wider church.
In some versions of the story the event is said to have taken place in Ephesus, in the House of the Virgin Mary, although this is a much more recent and localized tradition. The earliest traditions all locate the end of Mary's life in Jerusalem. By the 7th century a variation emerged, according to which one of the apostles, often identified as Saint Thomas, was not present at the death of Mary, but his late arrival precipitates a reopening of Mary's tomb, which is found to be empty except for her grave clothes. In a later tradition, Mary drops her girdle down to the apostle from heaven as testament to the event. This incident is depicted in many later paintings of the Assumption.
The assumed taking of Mary into Heaven became an established teaching across the Eastern, Western, Coptic and Oriental churches from at least the late 7th century, the festival date settling at August 15. Theological debate about the Assumption continued, following the Reformation, climaxing in 1950 when Pope Pius XII defined it as dogma for the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has not claimed that this doctrine is founded on the apocryphal accounts as having any authority, nor that the church bases its teaching about the Assumption on them, but rather on the historic teaching of the Church down the centuries, the scholastic arguments in favor of it, and its interpretations of biblical sources. However, Protestant theologians reject such arguments as semantics; that apocryphal accounts did in fact become the basis for such church teachings, which were then set forth as dogma. They cite the fact that the idea did not gain acceptance in the church until the sixth century, after Gregory of Tours accepted the apocryphal work "Transitus Beatae Mariae". Indeed, Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott stated, "The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus-narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries.... The first Church author to speak of the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours." The Catholic writer Eamon Duffy goes further, conceding that "there is, clearly, no historical evidence whatever for it.". However, the Catholic Church has never asserted nor denied that its teaching is based on the apocryphal accounts. The Church documents are silent on this matter and instead rely upon other sources and arguments as the basis for the doctrine.
In this dogmatic statement, the phrase "having completed the course of her earthly life", leaves open the question of whether the Virgin Mary died before her assumption or whether she was assumed before death; both possibilities are allowed. Mary's assumption is said to have been a divine gift to her as the 'Mother of God'. Ludwig Ott's view is that, as Mary completed her life as a shining example to the human race, the perspective of the gift of assumption is offered to the whole human race.
In Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma he states that "the fact of her death is almost generally accepted by the Fathers and Theologians, and is expressly affirmed in the Liturgy of the Church", to which he adduces a number of helpful citations, and concludes that "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". The point of her bodily death has not been infallibly defined, and many believe that she did not die at all, but was assumed directly into Heaven. The papal decree which, according to Roman Catholic dogma, infallibly proclaims the doctrine of the Assumption, the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, leaves open the question whether, in connection with her departure, Mary underwent bodily death; that is, it does not dogmatically define the point one way or the other, as shown by the words "having completed the course of her earthly life".
On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly declared:
- By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, 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
Since the declaration of Papal Infallibility by Vatican I in 1870, this declaration by Pius XII has been the only ex cathedra use of Papal Infallibility. While the then Pope Pius XII deliberately left open the question of whether Mary died before her Assumption, the more common teaching of the early Fathers is that she did.
Mary's heavenly birthday
|Assumption of Mary|
|Also called||Ferragosto (in Italy)|
Most Orthodox as The Dormition
|Significance||Mary's assumption without death|
|Observances||Church services, vacations, trips|
|Related to||End of the harvest|
The Assumption is important to many Catholic and Orthodox Christians as the Virgin Mary's heavenly birthday (the day that Mary was received into Heaven). Her acceptance into the glory of Heaven is seen by them as the symbol of the promise made by Jesus to all enduring Christians that they too will be received into paradise. The Assumption of Mary is symbolised in the Fleur-de-lys Madonna.
The present Italian name of the holiday, "Ferragosto", may derive from the Latin name, Feriae Augusti ("Holidays of the Emperor Augustus"), since the month of August took its name from the emperor. The feast of the Assumption on August 15 was celebrated in the eastern Church from the 6th Century. The Catholic Church adopted this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the real physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body into Heaven.
The Feast of the Assumption on August 15 is a Public Holiday in many countries, including Andorra, Austria, Belgium,Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chile, Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Colombia, Cyprus, East Timor, France, Gabon, Greece, Republic of Guinea, Haiti, Italy, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, North Macedonia, Madagascar, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Senegal, the Seychelles, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Tahiti, Togo and Vanuatu. It is also a holiday in some predominantly Catholic states of Germany, including Bavaria and Saarland. In Guatemala it is observed in Guatemala City and in the town of Santa Maria Nebaj, both of which claim her as their patron saint. Also, this day is combined with Mother's Day in Costa Rica. In many places, religious parades and popular festivals are held to celebrate this day. Prominent Catholic and Orthodox countries in which Assumption day is an important festival but is not recognized by the state as a public holiday include Argentina, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines and Russia. In Canada, Assumption Day is the Fête Nationale of the Acadians, of whom she is the patron saint. Businesses close on that day in heavily francophone parts of New Brunswick, Canada. The Virgin Assumed in Heaven is also patroness of the Maltese Islands and her feast, celebrated on 15 August, apart from being a public holiday in Malta is also celebrated with great solemnity in all the local churches especially in the seven localities known as the Seba' Santa Marijiet. In Anglicanism and Lutheranism, the feast is kept, but without official use of the word "Assumption". In New York City, alternate side of the street parking rules are suspended.
Assumption and Dormition (Eastern Christianity) compared
The Catholic Feast of the Assumption is celebrated on August 15, and the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos (the falling asleep of the Mother of God) on the same date, preceded by a 14-day fast period. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ upon death, and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her death and that she was taken up into heaven bodily in anticipation of the general resurrection. Her tomb was found empty on the third day. "...Orthodox tradition is clear and unwavering in regard to the central point [of the Dormition]: the Holy Virgin underwent, as did her Son, a physical death, but her body – like His – was afterwards raised from the dead and she was taken up into heaven, in her body as well as in her soul. She has passed beyond death and judgement, and lives wholly in the Age to Come. The Resurrection of the Body ... has in her case been anticipated and is already an accomplished fact. That does not mean, however, that she is dissociated from the rest of humanity and placed in a wholly different category: for we all hope to share one day in that same glory of the Resurrection of the Body which she enjoys even now."
Many Catholics also believe that Mary first died before being assumed, but they add that she was miraculously resurrected before being assumed. Others believe she was assumed bodily into Heaven without first passing through death. As mentioned earlier, this aspect of the Assumption is not authoritatively defined in Catholic theology, and either understanding may be legitimately held by Catholics. Eastern Catholics observe the Feast as the Dormition. Many theologians note by way of comparison that in the Catholic Church, the Assumption is dogmatically defined, while in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Dormition is less dogmatically than liturgically and mystically defined. Such differences spring from a larger pattern in the two traditions, wherein Catholic teachings are often dogmatically and authoritatively defined – in part because of the more centralized structure of the Catholic Church– while in Eastern Orthodoxy, many doctrines are less authoritative.
Assumption in Anglicanism
The Prayer Books of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada mark 15 August as the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the day is observed as a Holy Day of St Mary the Virgin. In the Church of England the day is a Festival of The Blessed Virgin Mary. In churches of the Anglican Communion Anglo-Catholics often observe the feast day under the same name as Catholics.
As mentioned, recent papal scholarship has cited John 14:3 as evidence of the Assumption in principle if not formally. Near the end of a review of the doctrine's history – a review which serves as the bulk of Munificentissimus Deus – Pope Pius XII tells us: "All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation." Precedent to this, he cites many passages that have been offered in support of this teaching:
29. ...the holy writers...employed statements and various images and analogies of Sacred Scripture to Illustrate and to confirm the doctrine of the Assumption, which was piously believed... On the feast day of the Assumption, while explaining the prophet's words: "I will glorify the place of my feet," [Isaiah 60:13] he [i.e. St. Anthony of Padua] stated it as certain that the divine Redeemer had bedecked with supreme glory his most beloved Mother from whom he had received human flesh. He asserts that "you have here a clear statement that the Blessed Virgin has been assumed in her body, where was the place of the Lord's feet..."
30. ...St. Albert the Great... in a sermon which he delivered on the sacred day of the Blessed Virgin Mary's annunciation, explained the words "Hail, full of grace" [Luke 1:28]-words used by the angel who addressed her-the Universal Doctor, comparing the Blessed Virgin with Eve, stated clearly and incisively that she was exempted from the fourfold curse that had been laid upon Eve [cf. Genesis 3:16]...
32. Along with many others, the Seraphic Doctor held the same views. He considered it as entirely certain that...God...would never have permitted her body to have been resolved into dust and ashes. Explaining these words of Sacred Scripture: "Who is this that comes up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her beloved?" [Song of Songs 8:5] and applying them in a kind of accommodated sense to the Blessed Virgin, he reasons thus: "From this we can see that she is there bodily...her blessedness would not have been complete unless she were there as a person. The soul is not a person, but the soul, joined to the body, is a person. It is manifest that she is there in soul and in body. Otherwise she would not possess her complete beatitude. ...
The Pope also cites, significantly in paragraph 39, 1st Corinthians 15, where we read (vv. 21–26):
For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But every one in his own order: the firstfruits Christ, then they that are of Christ, who have believed in his coming. Afterwards the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father, when he shall have brought to nought all principality, and power, and virtue. For he must reign, until he hath put all his enemies under his feet. And the enemy death shall be destroyed last: For he hath put all things under his feet.
In this passage Paul alludes to Genesis 3:15 (in addition to the primary reference of Psalms 8:6), where it is prophesied that the seed of a woman will crush Satan with his feet. Since, then, Jesus arose to Heaven to fulfill this prophecy, it follows that the woman would have a similar end, since she shared this enmity with Satan. The pope comments thus in paragraph 39:
...although subject to [Jesus, who is] the new Adam, [Mary, the new Eve] is most intimately associated with him in that struggle against the infernal foe which, as foretold in the protoevangelium [i.e. Genesis 3:15], would finally result in that most complete victory over the sin and death which are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Consequently, just as the glorious resurrection of Jesus was an essential part and the final sign of this victory, so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son should be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body, for the same Apostle says: "When this mortal thing hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory."
The pope also mentions (in paragraph 26) Psalms 132, a liturgical psalm commemorating the return of the Ark of God to Jerusalem and lamenting its subsequent loss. The second half of the psalm says that the loss will be recompensed in the New Covenant, and so it is hopefully prayed, "Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place: thou and the ark, which thou hast sanctified" (v. 8). Since the Church sees this New Covenant ark in Mary, it understands that she was taken into Heaven in the same manner as the Lord – that is, body and soul.
In the same paragraph, the pope mentions also Psalms 45:9–17 for support of a heavenly Queen present bodily with the heavenly King Jesus, and Song of Songs 3:6, 4:8, and 6:9, which speaks of David's lover "that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh, and frankincense, and of all the powders of the perfumer". Regarding the Marian interpretations of those passages from Psalms 132 to Song of Songs 6:9 and those in between, the pope did, however, consider them "rather free in their use of events and expressions taken from Sacred Scripture" (paragraph 26).
Finally, he mentions in the next paragraph "that woman clothed with the sun [Revelation 12:1–2] whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos" as support for the doctrine. The text seems to parallel this woman with the woman of the Genesis 3 prophecy (and hence Mary): for in verse 9 the passage recalls "that old serpent" of Genesis 3, and reflects the prophecy that God would place "enmities between thee [i.e. Satan] and the woman, and thy seed and her seed" when it says that Satan "was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed" (Rev. 12:17).
All these passages – viz., John 14:3, Isaiah 60:13, Luke 1:28, Song of Songs 8:5, 1st Corinthians 15:21–26, Psalms 132:8, Psalms 45:9–17, Song of Songs 3:6, 4:8, 6:9, Genesis 3:15, and Revelation 12:1–2 – are drawn upon as Scriptural support of the Assumption both in that original document, and today by Catholic apologists.
- Duggan, Paul E. (1989). The Assumption Dogma: Some Reactions and Ecumenical Implications in the Thought of English-speaking Theologians. Emerson Press, Cleveland, Ohio
- Shoemaker, Stephen J. (2002, 2006). Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-921074-8
- Pope Pius XII: "Munificentissimus Deus - Defining the Dogma of the Assumption", par. 44. Vatican, November 1, 1950
- Columbus World Travel Guide, 25th Edition
- Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 78.10–11, 23
- Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, para 27, Vaticsn (1950)
- Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 2006). A complete translation of this earliest text appears at pp. 290–350
- "Six Books" Dormition narratives
- William Wright, "The Departure of my Lady Mary from this World," The Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record, 6 (1865): 417–48 and 7 (1865): 108–60. See also Agnes Smith Lewis, ed., Apocrypha Syriaca, Studia Sinaitica, XI (London: C. J. Clay and Sons, 1902).
- De Obitu S. Dominae
- De Transitu Virginis
- Ante-Nicene Fathers - The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, vol. 8 page 594
- Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, no 44
- Christian Resources
- Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 209–210
- Eamon Duffy, What Catholics Believe About Mary (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1989), p. 17
- Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pp250 ff
- Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott, Book III, Pt. 3, Ch. 2, §6, ISBN 0-89555-009-1
- Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, no 44
- As the Virgin Mary, in the view of the Catholic Church, remained an ever-virgin and sinless, it is viewed that the Virgin Mary could not thus suffer the consequences of Original Sin, which is chiefly Death. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3819.htm Nicea II Session 6 Decree
- http://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/NICAEA2.HTM#2 Nicaea II Definition, "without blemish"
- Pianigiani, Ottorino (1907). "Vocabolario etimologico della lingua italiana". http://www.etimo.it/?term=ferragosto.
- New York City Department of Transportation: Alternate Side Parking Calendar, 2006
- Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, in: Festal Menaion [London: Faber and Faber, 1969], p. 64.
- See Three Sermons on the Dormition of the Virgin by John of Damascus, from the Medieval Sourcebook
- Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ
- USCCB - NAB - Psalm 132
- Media related to Assumption of Mary on Wikimedia Commons
- Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- "Munificentissimus Deus - Defining the Dogma of the Assumption" Vatican, November 1, 1950
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