Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the most important feasts of the year. Here are some facts of about today’s feast that you may not know:
|José Benlliure y Gil, Mass in the Chapel (1871)|
1. Today is a Holy Day of Obligation: Outside of Sundays, American Catholics are obliged to go to Mass on five or six other days out of the year. Today is one of them. So if you haven’t been to Mass yet, go. You should have no trouble finding an evening Mass near you. (This is true for you Eastern Catholics also, pursuant to Canon 880 § 3 of the Code of Canons of Oriental Churches.)
2. You Should Avoid “Servile Work” Today: Most Catholics know that they’re not supposed to work unnecessarily on Sundays and major holidays. We don’t really need to be told that going to work on Christmas isn’t what we’re called to as Christians. Working on Christmas feels wrong.
But many Catholics are unaware that the Church calls on us to avoid “servile labor” on all Holy Days of Obligation (including today) in the same way that we would on Sundays. This comes from the first of the five precepts of the Church (which are listed in the Catechism in CCC 2042-43): “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.” CCC 2042 explains that this precept:
… requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the Mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.
The five precepts of the Church (which are binding on all Catholics) are “meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor” (CCC 2041). Giving a few days out of the year – Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation – is part of the bare minimum that you should be doing as a Catholic.
Granted, by the time you read this, it’s late notice. But bear this in mind on the next Holy Day of Obligation: All Saints Day, Friday, November 1, 2013. It’s not too early to plan on a three day weekend.
|15th c. icon of the Dormition of Mary|
3. The Assumption and the Dormition are the Same Thing: In the West, we celebrate today as the Assumption of Mary, emphasizing that Mary was taken up, body and soul, into Heaven. In the East, they celebrate today as the Dormition of Mary, emphasizing that Mary “fell asleep” in the Lord. Same feast, different focus.
4. The Assumption of Mary Doesn’t Mean She Never Died: One result of the difference in emphasis between East and West is that we Western Catholics don’t tend to focus on the fact that Mary died before she was Assumed. Some Catholics even deny that she died, pointing in support to the allegedly-ambiguous nature of the infallible teaching of Munificentissimus Deus, which holds as 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.”
But throughout the encyclical, Pope Pius XII is clear that Mary did die, and he cites longstanding Tradition and ancient liturgical texts that support this. For example:
Thus, to cite an illustrious example, this is set forth in that sacramentary which Adrian I, our predecessor of immortal memory, sent to the Emperor Charlemagne. These words are found in this volume: “Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten your Son our Lord incarnate from herself.”(11)
5. Jesus Wasn’t Assumed into Heaven: The Second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary is the Ascension of Jesus. The Fourth Glorious Mystery is the Assumption of Mary. The critical difference between the Ascension and Assumption is that Mary was taken up into Heaven, while Christ ascended by His own Divine power. Fr. James M. Keane, O.S.M., explains it this way:
Jesus arose from the tomb and ascended into heaven by his own power, whereas Mary’s body was taken up to heaven by the power of her Son. For that reason we use two different words: the Ascension of Christ and the Assumption of Mary.
In the words of St. Anthony of Padua, today celebrates when “the Virgin Mother has been taken up to her heavenly dwelling.” Having said that, Scripture also speaks of Christ being “taken up” in the Ascension (Acts 1:9, 11), just as He is said both to have risen from the grave, and been raised from the grave. None of this denies Christ’s Divine power, or His ability to raise Himself. Here again, Taylor Marshall has more.
6. There are Two Assumptions in the Bible Besides Mary’s: While Jesus wasn’t assumed into Heaven, at least two other people in Scripture were (besides Mary). The Old Testament hints that Enoch was assumed (Genesis 5:24), and the New Testament says so explicitly (Hebrews 11:5). The Old Testament explicitly says that Elijah was assumed (2 Kings 2:11).
Additionally, Deuteronomy 34:6 says that Moses “was buried in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.” Jude 1:9 has a cryptic allusion to a dispute between the devil and the archangel Michael about the body of Moses. What happened to his body – whether or not it was taken up – is left unsaid. More on that at Msgr. Charles Pope’s blog.
|Peter Paul Rubens, Woman of Apocalypse (17th c.)|
7. Mary’s Assumption is Implicit in Scripture: Just as the Old Testament hinted at Enoch’s assumption (a fact later confirmed by the New Testament), the New Testament hints at Mary’s Assumption (a fact later confirmed by the Church Fathers). The Assumption seems to be implicit in Revelation 11:19-12, in which we see that the Mother of God is already glorified in Heaven:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
The reason that Protestants can read this and still deny the Assumption is that it’s not immediately clear who the Woman is.
I think that this can be answered by looking first to the Son. The Son is the one “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 12:5). The Book of Revelation actually reveals Who this is. It refers primarily to Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:15), and secondarily to the Saints (Revelation 2:27). This dual fulfillment is fitting, because Revelation 12:15 is the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophesy about the Son of God (Psalm 2:7-9). The Son of God, in the primary sense of the word, is Jesus Christ. But through baptism, we also become sons and daughters of God.
So the Son is Jesus first, the Saints second. So who is Jesus’ Mother and the Mother of the Church? Mary, obviously. Mary is described as Jesus’ Mother throughout Scripture, including in Matthew 1:16 and Galatians 4:4 (in which the Son is described as One “born of woman”). At the Cross, Jesus takes the extraordinary step of making Mary the Mother of the beloved Disciple (John 19:26-27), in prefigurement of her role as Mother of the Church (cf. Revelation 12:17).
I’ve written on this elsewhere on the blog, but if you’d rather listen to Fr. Dwight Longenecker say it instead, go right ahead. I won’t be offended.
8. Early Christian Tradition Supports the Assumption of Mary: While the New Testament hints as Mary’s Assumption, the early Christians embraced it explicitly. We find this from a wealth of sources: first and foremost, from liturgical celebrations. All throughout the global Church, we find ancient commemorations of Mary’s Dormition and Assumption into Heaven.
A wealth of literature (some reliable, some unreliable) sprang up quickly to relay stories about Mary’s last days. Some of this is merely pious legend, like the legend of George Washington and the cherry tree. But it reflects a global consensus within the Church that Mary was, in fact, assumed into Heaven. In other words, we don’t know all of the details about Mary’s last days, but we do know (because numerous sources attest to it, from all over the Church), that Mary was taken up. Pope Pius XII outlines some of this evidence, but I want to point out the (fascinating) fact that there’s no counter-tradition. That is, there’s apparently nobody in the early Church denying the Assumption, nor is there anyone claiming to have the relics of Mary’s bones, even though relics of the Blessed Mother would have been incredibly sought-after. Again, we simply see a consensus that Mary was assumed.
9. Modern Science Supports the Assumption of Mary: This is a clever point from Elizabeth Scalia. In short, every time a woman gets pregnant, her child leaves some of his cells in her body. (even if the child later dies in the womb). So even when a woman miscarries, or aborts her children, the cells of those children remain inside of her for decades, and can help her fight disease. It’s pretty incredible, and I imagine there’s a lot of potential to develop a pro-life apologetic around this science.
But Scalia points in a different direction: this means that Mary carried the Blood of Christ within her always. We receive the Eucharist, and carry Christ within us temporarily, but Mary was never wholly separated from Him, even physically. Psalm 16:9-10 promises that the Body of Christ will not undergo decay. The Assumption is simply a further completion of that promise.
10. Mary’s Assumption Prefigures Our Own: The promise that the Body of Christ will not undergo decay is fulfilled first in Christ, then in His Mother, but its final fulfillment is in us, the Mystical Body. We shall not remain in the tomb, but shall rise again in Christ. What Mary underwent immediately, we shall undergo eventually, if we stay true to the faith.
This is why today’s Second Reading included this passage from Romans 8:29-30:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
This is also why I don’t understand Protestant squeamishness about the doctrine of the Assumption.
|God took Enoch (Genesis 5:24),
from the LaHaye Bible (1728)
Certainly, I understand why those who believe in sola Scriptura would struggle with a doctrine found only implicitly, like the Assumption (or the Trinity, or original sin). All of those are great arguments (against sola Scriptura). But there are some Protestants who actually think it’s heretical to believe that Mary was Assumed into Heaven. For example:
The Roman Catholic Church has embraced an idolatrous false gospel. To say that Mary rose from the dead and was taken into Heaven as Queen is to accord her similar status as Christ, and ultimately to denigrate Christ.
Therefore, there can be no agreement or compromise between Anglicans and Roman Catholics on these issues. To agree is to deny the authority of Scripture, to embrace error and denigrate Christ. Until
Romerepents of its false teaching unity must be an offence to the Lord Jesus Christ.
- If it doesn’t denigrate Christ for Enoch or Elijah to be assumed into Heaven, why in the world would it denigrate Christ for Mary to be Assumed? In declaring that Enoch or Elijah were assumed into Heaven, are we declaring them equal to Christ, or proclaiming their deity?
- If it doesn’t denigrate Christ for the Saints to “reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12), why does it denigrate Him for His Mother to reign with Him? If 2 Timothy 2:12 doesn’t deify the Saints, why would the Assumption be held to deify Mary?
- If the Twelve Apostles can be enthroned in Heaven (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30) without denigrating Christ or declaring them deities, why not Mary?