The Assumption of Mary
Fr. Mark Kenney, S.M.
Halfway through the month of August, we celebrate one of the most important feasts of Mary – the Assumption, which declares that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. This means that Mary now shares in the fullness of the resurrection that God has promised to all people through Jesus. This is beautifully expressed in the second reading in the Mass of the Assumption, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man. Just as in Adam all die, so to in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order; Christ the first fruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father…” (1 Cor 15:20-24). The Assumption celebrates Mary as the first person to fully share in Jesus’ resurrection.
The Assumption is the oldest feast of Mary dating back to the 2nd century when it was known as the “Dormition” or Falling Asleep of Mary. In the early 5th century (403) there was strong conviction that Mary did not corrupt in the tomb but was taken up bodily to heaven. It was believed that she who was exceptional throughout her life must have an exceptional destiny also.
The process behind the proclamation of the dogma began in earnest in the 19th century. The declaration of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 gave new impetus to have the Assumption defined as dogma. Over 9 million petitions were sent to Rome requesting the formal definition of the dogma.
After World War II, Pope Pius XII felt the time was right to proclaim the Assumption. The world had experienced killing on a massive scale in the war, the Holocaust, and the concluding bombing of Hiroshima. He wanted to emphasize that human life was not “cheap,” but that God has destined all of humanity for future glory in resurrection with Jesus.
Pope Pius XII felt it prudent to get a consensus of the church before the dogma was officially declared. So, on May 1, 1946, he issued an encyclical, Deiparae Virginis, in which he asked the bishops of the world two questions: 1) if it would be proper to define the Assumption as a dogma of faith, and 2) whether this definition was desired by the entire church.
In the result of the consultation, only 6 bishops said it should not be defined as dogma and 16 others said that the timing of the declaration of it was not appropriate. Feeling that he had the support of the Catholic church, Pope Pius XII in 1950 officially declared the Assumption a dogma of faith (Munificentissimus Deus).
Every doctrine and feast of Mary is not just about Mary but also says something about her divine son, Jesus, and also something about us as the Church of her divine son. What does the Assumption say about Jesus? Mary’s assumption depends totally upon Jesus’ resurrection. This is supported by the passage from 1 Corinthians 15:20-24 as quoted above. The Assumption
indicates that Mary is the first to follow Jesus in resurrection.
What does the Assumption say about us, the church? We will share in the same glory that Mary has now. Mary is a sign of the future fulfilment of the church. We also shall share in the fullness of Jesus’ resurrection as Mary shares in it now.
If you are in need of pastoral care or support, please contact Fr. Mark Kenney, S.M., Alumni Chaplain,
or (770) 936-6440.