Friday, August 15th, 2008
On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII promulgated Munificentissimus Deus, in which he defined today’s mystery as a divinely revealed dogma of the Catholic Faith:
For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; 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.
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.
Before his definition, Pope Pius constructs a litany of authorities that demonstrates the constant teaching of the Church regarding the assumption. Two of his authorities are St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas.
When, during the Middle Ages, scholastic theology was especially flourishing, St. Albert the Great who, to establish this teaching, had gathered together many proofs from Sacred Scripture, from the statements of older writers, and finally from the liturgy and from what is known as theological reasoning, concluded in this way: “From these proofs and authorities and from many others, it is manifest that the most blessed Mother of God has been assumed above the choirs of angels. And this we believe in every way to be true.” [Mariale, q. 132] And, in a sermon which he delivered on the sacred day of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s annunciation, explained the words “Hail, full of grace”-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. [Sermones de Sanctis, Sermo XV in Annuntiatione B. Mariae]
Following the footsteps of his distinguished teacher, the Angelic Doctor, despite the fact that he never dealt directly with this question, nevertheless, whenever he touched upon it, always held together with the Catholic Church, that Mary’s body had been assumed into heaven along with her soul. [Summa Theol., Illa; q. 27, a. 1; q. 83, a. 5, ad 8; Expositio Salutationis Angelicae; In Symb. Apostolorum Expositio, a. S; In IV Sent., d. 12, q. 1, a. 3, sol. 3; d. 43, q. 1, a. 3, sol. 1, 2]
The image above depicts a medieval tradition relating to the assumption first recorded in a seventh-century work entitled The Passing of Mary. It recounts how Our Lady dropped her cincture down to St. Thomas the Apostle as she was being assumed into heaven. Why St. Thomas? In her merciful care for him, the Blessed Virgin gives the incredulous apostle a second chance to demonstrate his faith. According to the legend, the reception of the cincture allows St. Thomas to atone for his previous disbelief in the resurrection by becoming the first herald of the assumption.