In the Catholic Church, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) is a dogma. A Dogma is a light along the path of faith and an official teaching of the Catholic Church that pertains to Faith and Morals which is proclaimed by the Magisterium – the teaching body of the Church through the Roman Pontiff and is binding on all Catholics. The four Marian Dogmas are: Mary as Mother of God (theotokos), Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity, and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; a fifth, Mary as Advocate, Mediatrix and Co-redemptrix is being proposed.
The Marian dogma of the Assumption also known as the falling asleep of the BVM which is implicitly contained in Divine Revelation was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950 in his Encyclical Munificentissimus Deus. The dogma of the Assumption of the BVM states that: “Mary, Immaculate Mother of God ever Virgin, after finishing the course of her life on earth, was taken up in body and soul to heavenly glory.” The Church teaches that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This dogma as well as that of the Immaculate Conception does not only make reference to the universal, certain and firm consent of the Magisterium but also makes allusion to the concordant belief of the faithful. The feast which is commonly celebrated annually on 15 August is also marked as a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church and as a festival in the Anglican Communion.
The Assumption has been a part of the Church’s spiritual and doctrinal patrimony for centuries and also part of theological reflection as well as liturgy. Pope Pious XII pointed to the Book of Genesis (Gen. 3:15) as scriptural support for the dogma of the Assumption of the BVM in terms of Mary’s victory over sin and death as also reflected in 1 Corinthians 15:54: “Then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” Since the Old Testament discloses that Enoch (Gen. 5:21-24) and Elijah (2 Kgs. 2:11) were taken into Heaven, the Assumption of the BVM is unquestionable because “the body of the woman that gave the Saviour of the world human nature knew no decay for she was assumed both body and soul into heaven.” This Feast is the logical conclusion of Mary’s vocation on earth considering how she lived her life in union with God and the mission of his Son whom she bore.
The assumption can be viewed as a consequence of Mary’s Divine Motherhood being that through, with, and for her Son on earth, it was fitting that she also made heaven too. Because on earth she was the generous associate of her Son, the Church teaches that her assumption urges us to continue this association with her who is indissolubly linked to her Son on earth as in heaven. Since the Church teaches that “Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside her salvific duty … By her maternal love she cares for the brothers and sisters of her Son who still journey on earth” (LG), Mary’s active involvement in salvation history continues in heaven which is why she is called “the eschatological icon of the Church” (CCC, No.972). As to whether her transition from this earthly state was without prior separation of soul and body, ecclesiastical opinion based on tradition has it that Mary passed through death as her Son did but the Apostles saw rose flower in her tomb when the Doubting-Thomas who was not there when she died was taken to the tomb where they laid her.
The Assumption of the BVM teaches us that glorified in body and soul, Mary is already in the state that will be ours after the resurrection of the dead. The Holy Quran (Q 50:23) too bears profound testimony that Mary was taken to heaven with her physical body thus describing the Assumption of the BVM into heaven. A distinction must be made between the Ascension of Christ and the Assumption of the BVM. While the ascension of the risen Christ into heaven is a sign of God’s divine power over sin and death, Mary’s assumption into heaven demonstrates the power and grace of God over nature. The celebration teaches us that where Our Mother is, we too may be; it also stirs up the desire for holiness in us so as to meet with Our Lady in beatific vision. The assumption challenges us as a pilgrim Church to take to a life of prayer especially the rosary and other Marian Devotions. Mary’s Assumption reminds us that her Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity, Purity and humility are the tickets we need to make heaven.
This celebration calls us to be ambassadors of the BVM and assures that with our Mother in heaven, the victory over sin and death is ours through Christ. In conclusion, this celebration is not only for Marian Devotees but for the Universal Church. The August event affords us the opportunity to reflect on the areas where we have not cooperated with the will of God and to say like the BVM: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your words” (Lk. 1:38). May this celebration increase our devotion to the Angelus which I refer to as a miniature Christmas and Easter because it reveals the nativity of Christ on the one hand and concludes by recalling the mysteries of his passion on the other leading to his glorious resurrection. Have a blessed celebration!
• Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.