On August 15, Catholics around the world will celebrate (in person hopefully) the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.
1. What is It?
The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is a feast day celebrated on August 15 within the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. It celebrates the act of Mary, the mother of Jesus, being assumed into Heaven, body and soul, at the time of her death on earth.
“Finally the Immaculate Virgin… when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things…” (CCC 966).
2. Who Instituted it?
On November 1, 1950 Pope Pius XII released the apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, which defined the ex cathedra dogma of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While Pope Pius XII made the teaching of Mary’s assumption an official Catholic doctrine, he did not create the idea, belief, or even the feast day of the assumption.
“In order that this, our definition of the bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven may be brought to the attention of the universal Church, we desire that this, our Apostolic Letter, should stand for perpetual remembrance…” (Munificentissimus Deus, 46).
3. How Long have Christians believed in the Assumption of Mary?
While we do not have a set date about when it became common practice to believe in/celebrate the Assumption of Mary, we do know that the belief that Mary was assumed into heaven was a very common belief for centuries before Pius XII’s ex cathedra statement on the matter. The earliest work on the subject was written by a doctor of the church, St. John of Damascus, sometime in the early 8th century A.D.
“It was fitting that the body of her, who preserved her virginity unsullied in her motherhood, should be kept from corruption even after death.” (Three Sermons on the Assumption, St. John of Damascus)
4. Why was Mary Assumed into Heaven?
“By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a ‘preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church’; indeed, she is the ‘exemplary realization” of the Church'” (CCC 967).
The Catechism tells us that it was Mary’s obedience to God that made her a perfect example of faith. Mary is the ultimate model for how to faithfully follow God, and her reward for her obedience was her blessed assumption.
5. Are Catholics Obligated to Believe in the Assumption of Mary?
Pope Pius XII explained that this is “a divinely revealed dogma”. This means that it is a matter of faith that has been divinely revealed by God and has been infallibly proposed by the Magisterium of the Church.
“Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.” (Munificentissimus Deus, 45).
How Should I Celebrate the Assumption of Mary?
There is no right or wrong way to celebrate this feast day. But here is my list of things you could do to make August 15 special:
● Go to mass! (it’s a Holy Day of Obligation)
● Pray the Rosary
● Make a big family meal (it is a FEAST day after all)
● Attend a Marian Procession (in person or even virtual)
● Decorate an altar for Mary
These are just a few ideas but there are still plenty of other ways that you and your family can celebrate the Assumption of Mary.
“Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified” (Ps. 131:8)