Clothed With The Sun: Mary's Glorious Assumption

Chapter 14 of Mother of God by Fr. Cyril Bernard Papali O.C.D.

Read the other chapters here.

"And the Temple of God was opened in heaven, and the Ark of the Testament was seen in His Temple." (Apoc. XI, 19.)

The triumphal entry of the Ark of the Testament into its final resting place in the magnificent temple of Solomon, after its prolonged wanderings and sojourns, was the most imposing event in the history of Israel. The whole nation assembled under the leadership of Solomon who led the procession with every pomp at his command. The fabulous wealth of that king was freely lavished to enhance the grandeur of the occasion. Innumerable victims sanctified the solemn rite and the feast was continued for eight whole days. The Fathers have seen in this event a remote shadow of the assumption of the Ark of the New Testament into its eternal resting place. “All these,” says St. Ildephonse, “were shadows of the future; in Mary they have been realised… For the Virgin like the Ark is solemnly taken out of the captivity of the world by ministering Angels and set up, not in that Jerusalem which was destroyed by the Chaldean armies, but in the true celestial Jerusalem which was founded by God, not by man.”[1]

When St. John saw the Temple of God open in heaven and the Ark of His Testament reposing in it, the Blessed Virgin had already departed from this life. And if anyone knew her whereabouts it certainly was John. The symbolism of the Ark is unmistakable. Throughout the Apocalypse Christ is represented by the Lamb and the Church by the City and Temple of Jerusalem. The Ark can represent nothing so truly as the Blessed Virgin and, to be more precise, her sacred body which enshrined the substantial Word of God. This is how St. John Damascene explains the vision: “Today the sacred and living Ark of the living God, who bore in her womb her own maker, rests in the Temple of God unbuilt by hands.”[2] And St. Theodore Studite: “Today the Ark of sanctity divinely made and inlaid with gold has passed out of this earthly home into the heavenly Jerusalem.”[3] We have the same Ark alluded to in the words of the Palmist: “Ascent, Lord, into Thy rest, Thou and the Ark of Thy sanctification.”[4] “With good reason has this psalm been accommodated to Mary,” wrote Suarez, “because this Ark seems to be the one about which the Church sings: ‘He was enclosed in the Ark of her womb’. Hence the Greek Fathers frequently address the Virgin as the sacred Ark, and to her may be applied the above quoted words of the Apocalypse: ‘and the Temple of God was opened in heaven, and the Ark of His Testament was seen in His Temple’.”[5] And lest there arise any doubts as to the true significance of the Ark, St. John proceeds in the very next verse of the Apocalypse to describe the “Woman clothed with the Sun, and the Moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”. This is the last close-up of a series of stills in which the Scriptures have portrayed for us this prodigy of God’s power. Here the transformation is complete. She who once encompassed the Sun, has now been in her turn encompassed by Him, and bodily assumed into the inaccessible light of the everlasting glory of God.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is not merely a historical fact which the Church commemorates, but a theological conclusion that would be inescapable even if the historical proofs of the fact were all lost in obscurity, as indeed they mostly are. And the paradox is that the history of the Assumption has got irretrievably confused, not because it was unknown but because it was too well known. It was so well known and so highly cherished in the early Church that too many pious persons succumbed to the temptation to reconstruct the details of it, so that before long true history was completely overgrown by a forest of pious fiction. As early as 494 Pope Gelasius I sounded a warning against this dangerous tendency. As things lie now, it is all but impossible to sort out the purely historical data from apocryphal dreams. But the tradition of the Church remained sound and solid all the same. If nothing positive remains, we have at least the strange behaviour of the early Church which, while making itself almost notorious for treasuring the relics of saints, even with suicidal obstinacy, never sought or found the mortal remains of Our Lady. Which can only mean that there were no mortal remains of Our Lady to look for. The earliest liturgical monuments extant of the feast of the Assumption date back to the fifth century, in all of which it appears as an ancient institution. It is found in the Sacramentary of Gelasius belonging to the year 495. The Martyrology of Damascus, commonly ascribed to St. Jerome, mentions the twofold feast of the Dormition and Assumption of Our Lady. The Mozarabic Missal celebrates this feast “according to the custom of Syrians, Franks, Armenians and Romans”. At the time of St. Gregory of Turin (590) it was celebrated with Vigil by the French. It occurs twice in the Sacramentary of Gregory the Great. The feast was an important one in France at the time of Emperor Pepin. The synod of Rheims made it a day of obligation in 633. The synods of Salzburg (713) and Cloveshoe (747) imposed the feast respectively on Germany and England. In the year 847, Pope Leo IV extended the feast to the entire Church. In 858 Pope Nicholas I prescribed fasting on the Vigil of the feast.

In many of these Liturgies the feast is mentioned as the Dormition of Our Lady, but this need not disconcert us. The great theologian Pope Benedict XIV remarks about it: “Let he who cares study the ancient monuments wherein this feast is named the Dormition, and he will arrive at this conclusion that in this matter Dormition and Assumption mean one and the same thing.”[6] The prayers and homilies assigned for the feast by the various Liturgies are too clear and explicit to admit of any doubt about the significance of the feast. Thus in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory the Great we read: “May we receive eternal help, O Lord, from the festivity we celebrate this day, on which the Holy Mother of God underwent temporal death, but could not be held down by the bonds of death, because she brought forth Thy Incarnate Son, Our Lord.”[7] The ancient Gothic Missal has the following: “Today’s inexplicable mystery of the noble mother of Our Lord, the more it is heralded, the more singular it becomes among men because of the assumption of the Virgin, whose integrity of life merited her Son, and whose death had no equal.”[8] And a little lower down it continues: “We beseech Him who dwells in the virginal guest-chamber, the bridegroom of that blessed nuptial chamber, the master of the house, the King of the temple who conferred such innocence upon His Mother as made her worthy to bear the Incarnate Godhead, who untainted by this world, preserved her purity of morals, who by reason of her assumption did not experience any decay because she bore the Author of life: this Lord we implore in His mercy to deliver the dead from the infernal regions to the place where the body of the Blessed Virgin was borne from the grave.”[9] And finally it concludes a long preface with these words: “Rightly art thou happily received in thy assumption by Him whom thou by faith didst piously receive to be brought forth, so that thou, who was untainted by this earth, mightest not be held enclosed by the rock.”[10]

Among the documents of the Oriental Church, the Menae of St. Saba has these words assigned for the 17th August: “In order to confirm the faith in His twofold nature, thy Son our God died as a man and rose up again as God. It pleased God that thou too, O Mother of God, should die, lest the infidels should think the Incarnation of Christ to be a mere illusion if His Mother were not mortal. But thou didst ascend from this world into heaven, like the bride from her bridal chamber. And as thou didst brighten the world by thy child-birth so has thou hallowed the celestial regions by thy ascension. In the meantime, the Apostles celebrated thy funeral and discovered to their surprise that thy sacred body had passed into the highest heavens, and they exclaimed: ‘this transformation is the work of the right hand of God’”.[11] John of Euboea thus explains the significance of the feast: “Besides the full round of ten solemnities, we celebrate also the life-bearing dormition of the Mother of God. We do so after the ascension into heaven of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the descent of the most holy and vivifying Spirit upon the blessed Apostles. This is called both a great and the final feast, because it is the completion of the benign economy of Our Lord and God.”[12] The Armenians introduced this declaration into their Profession of Unity in the year 1342: “The Church of the Armenians believes and holds that, by the power of Christ, the holy Mother of God was bodily assumed into heaven.”[13] Even the schismatic synod of Jerusalem convened in 1672 against the Calvinists made this assertion: “She is undoubtedly that most holy Virgin who, having been a Great Sign on earth because she generated God in her flesh and even after childbirth remained an inviolate Virgin, is deservedly called also a Great Sign in heaven because she is bodily assumed into heaven. And although her immaculate body was closed in the sepulchre, on the third day, like Christ, she too ascended into heaven.”[14]

Pope Benedict XIV draws the following conclusion from this constant and universal tradition: “If the Church not only celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin on the 15th day of August and the following days, but also presents to the faithful for reading the homilies of St. Damascene and St. Bernard which affirm in the clearest of terms tht the Blessed Virgin was assumed body and soul into heaven, it would seem that there is no longer any doubt about her authoritative mind in this matter.”[15] In spite of this unbroken tradition, the doctrine has had to face two strong waves of opposition in its long history. Misinterpreting the warnings of Pope Gelasius against apocryphal writings, some critics rejected the whole tradition about Our Lady’s Assumption as historically unsound. In the sixth century an unknown author published a letter, incorrectly supposed to have come from the pen of St. Jerome, on which he threw doubts on the historicity of the Assumption. Another tract appeared about the same time, a homily written by Ambrose Autpertus but wrongly inserted among the works of St. Augustine, which advising caution in this question insinuated that it does not matter where her body rests provided we know she is reigning in heaven. These dangerous doubts and insinuations obtained wide circulation until they found their way into some Martyrologies and Breviaries. But the Catholic tradition revolted against these ruthless critics. In a well-reasoned epistle, an unknown author, probably Alquin writing under the pseudonym of Augustine, set forth the dogmatic case for the Assumption:” As regards the death of Mary and her Assumption, because the Scriptures have nothing to say about them, we had to find out by reason what is conformable to truth… Knowing the condition of man we do not fear to admit that she underwent temporal death, which even her Son who is God and Man suffered by the law of human condition… But before asserting that she was held in the bonds of death and was reduced to the common condition of decay and worm and dust, we have to pause and consider whether this is compatible with the dignity of this Tabernacle of God… If He willed to preserve her even in her maternity an inviolate Virgin, would He not keep her immune from the filth of decay?... For the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary… He therefore ascended into heaven and set that flesh which He had received from His Mother above the stars… Taking all these into consideration and moved by right reason, I believe it necessary to confess that Mary is in Christ and with Christ… With Christ, assumed gloriously to the joys of eternity… and not reduced after death to the common humiliation of decay and worms and dust, because she brought forth the Saviour of all the world and hers.”[16] This eloquent exposition was not without fruit. In the year 813 the Council of Moguntine, at the request of Emperor Louis, restored the feast of the Assumption which had fallen into disuse. And the tradition continued undisturbed for well-nigh eight centuries. But the storm broke again in the seventeenth century when the Cathedral Chapter of Paris wanted to delete from the Martyrology then used by it, a few words that cast a shadow of doubt on the fact of the Assumption. The opposition was led by Canon Joly, Launoy, Tillemont, Alexander Natalis and others. They undermined what they believed to be the sole foundation of the dogma by exposing the critical insufficiency of the historical arguments for it. But the Catholic tradition survived nevertheless, because the Church believed in the Assumption not merely because it did happen but principally because it had to happen. It is bound up with the whole scheme of the Incarnation and the Redemption.

The Fathers of the Vatican Council submitted a petition to Pope Pius IX begging him to define as a dogma of faith the Assumption of Our Lady. In this important document they summed up the theological arguments for it in these words: “The pious belief in the bodily assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven is strengthened by theological arguments derived from the dignity of the Mother of God, her most sublime Virginity, her exceptional holiness surpassing that of all men and angels, her intimate union and resemblance with Christ her Son, and the immense love that Son bears His Mother.”[17] When God decreed that the Promised Woman should crush the serpent’s head, He meant a complete reversal of the victory of the devil over the first woman. And the devil had a fourfold victory over the first woman: sin and concupiscence over her soul, death and corruption over her body. In all these four respects therefore Mary must be the opposite of Eve. Mary conquered sin and concupiscence at the beginning of her life by her Immaculate Conception; she conquered death and corruption at the close of her life by her glorious Assumption. These two privileges are mutually complementary; the first demands the second as its crowning perfection. “She (Eve) is the seat of death,” says St. Germanus of Constantinople, “but thou (Mary) art the escape from death…. She being earth sank into the earth; thou who broughtest forth life unto us, didst rise up unto life.”[18] St. Ildephonse draws the same contrast between the two women: “Eve who was in Paradise was sent out into exile; Mary who was in exile in the world is lifted into heaven.”[19] “The third curse,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “was common to man and woman, namely to have to return to dust; the Blessed Virgin was free from this, because she was bodily assumed into heaven”[20]

By her Immaculate Conception Mary was exempt from the law of sin. This is how the Fathers of the Vatican Council argue in their petition to the Pope: “Besides, her Immaculate Conception has most intimate bearing on this matter. If she was free from all stain of sin, she was also free from the punishment for sin, and therefore she must be free from the decay of the body.”[21] Death is the wages of sin, and as such it cannot find a place in Mary. “The Blessed Virgin had no stain of sin to cause death,” says St. Cyril of Jerusalem.[22] It was this conviction that caused St. Epiphanius, the first to speak explicitly about the end of Mary’s earthly life, to doubt whether she did die at all, though he argued against the Collyridians who worshipped her as a goddess, that she certainly could die. He wrote: “The Sacred Scriptures do not say that Mary remained in the house of St. John, and the probable reason for the silence of Holy Writ concerning Mary’s later life may be found in the fact that her life was so completely heavenly and wonderful, that mankind could not possibly have borne the spectacle. Perhaps the Apocalypse would show by the woman who was snatched from the dragon, that Mary escaped death. If she did die, her death was kept hidden, that people might not think too carnally about Mary.”[23] But the general tradition of the Church has always held that she died, not indeed to resemble the rest of the children of Adam, but to resemble Christ. To quote the words of St. Cyril again: “God had granted her the privilege of immortality, and if she chose she could have avoided death altogether and ascended to heaven as she was living. But she would not use this prerogative.”[24] She preferred to die both for love of Christ and for love of all mankind. Her death like that of Christ was a triumph, but unlike that of Christ it was free from violence and pain “Neither does the text of the Holy Writ,” wrote St. Ambrose, “nor does history teach that Mary left this life through the sufferings of physical violence; for not the soul, but the body is pierced by a material sword.”[25] Her own death-agony she suffered at the foot of the cross, so that when she came to die her passing away was a blissful trance, it was the Dormition. And by it she obtained for all the elect that their death should be truly a falling asleep “in the kiss of the Lord”. “Neither her childbirth nor her death entailed suffering.” Says St. John Damascene.[26] And St. Vincent Ferrer says: “She conceived without corruption, she brought forth without pain, and without pain likewise she delivered up her soul into the hands of her Son.”[27]

If by her Immaculate Conception Mary was free from the law of sin, in her miraculous virginity the Fathers find a compelling reason for the absolute incorruptibility of her body. “As the womb of her who brought forth the Redeemer remained ever incorrupt,” wrote St. Andrew of Crete, “so likewise her dead body never perished. O admirable thing! Her childbirth escaped all corruption, and her grave did not admit that final corruption after death.”[28] Virginity of that superhuman type is the prerogative of glorified bodies, according to Our Lord Himself: “For in the resurrection they shall neither marry not be married, but shall be as the angels of God in heaven.”[29] And Mary’s virginity was of that heavenly type. Hence St. John Damascene wrote: “God the King of all granted thee gifts beyond the reach of nature as He preserved thee a Virgin in thy childbirth, so in the sepulchre He preserved thy body incorrupt, and by a divine operation transferred and glorified it; He as Son enriching thee His Mother with His gifts.”[30] The intrinsic relation between Mary’s virginity and the imperishableness of her body is thus brought out by Scheeben: “This comparison is not a mere analogy. It is a theological proof or a development of the dogmatic idea of Mary’s virginal incorruption, that is, of the ‘Virgin consecrated by her divine espousal’. This idea is expressed also by the writer of the letter Cogitis me in the words, ‘Hence Immaculate, because incorrupt’, an expression which embraces the one element as well as the other.

“In any case, the point at issue in regard to the imperishableness of Mary’s body is not a mere matter of fittingness, which allows the opposite view to be held, but a point of propriety from the opposite of which Christian sentiment recoils. Indeed, the theological writers, practically without exception, subscribe to the views held by the author of the tract de assumption Beatae Virginis, ascribed to St. Augustine, and expressed in the words: ‘I tremble to say that that most sacred body was given as food to worms in the common process of decay, because I am unable to think so.’”[31] The Fathers and theologians are unanimous on this point. God who allowed her to die, which is a greater physical evil, would not allow her dead body to decay, which is a lesser physical evil. The reason is that death, though shameful when suffered as a penalty, is glorious when embraced out of heroic charity. There is no such saving feature in the case of corruption which is in every sense shameful and unbecoming. This is how the writer of the tract de Assumptione, commonly ascribed to St. Augustine, concludes his thesis: “And so it seems right that, with an indescribable joy of soul and body, Mary rejoices worthily in, with, and through her own Son; that no blemish of corruption ought to follow her death as no corruption of integrity followed her bringing forth of such a Son: so that she who was imbued with so much grace might ever be incorrupt; that life might be whole for her who brought forth the whole and perfect life for all; that she might be with Him whom she bore in her womb; that to Him whom she brought forth, kept warm, and fed, she might ever be Mary, the mother, nurse, handmaid and follower of God.”[32]

Her surpassing sanctity is yet another reason to apply to her as to Christ the words of the Psalmist: “Nor wilt Thou give Thy holy One to see corruption.”[33] “She was full of grace,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “because of its overflow from her soul into her flesh.”[34] Hence Pope Alexander III argues: “She passed into the other world without corruption in order to prove that she was ‘full of grace’ according to the words of the Angel, or rather of God through the Angel, and not merely half-full.”[35] He means by it that her fullness of grace pertains not only to her soul but also in a manner to her body which for that reason had to be imperishable. The sacred vessels of the Old Law had to be made of the purest gold, and the Ark constructed of imperishable wood. And they were all types of the sacred body of Mary which contained the true Manna and the Word. This brings us to the consideration of her intimate relation to the Incarnate Word. If her Immaculate Conception, her miraculous virginity and her all but divine sanctity demand her freedom from death and corruption, her divine Maternity demands the resurrection of her body, her assumption into heaven and her enthronement as the Queen of all creation. “The Queen stood at Thy right hand, in gilded vesture, all adorned with variety,” says the Scripture.[36] There is an ancient homily ascribed to St. Cyril of Alexandria in which the above verse is thus explained. “She stands there not as a pure spirit without flesh and body, but in her most sacred flesh adorned with incorruption and immortality, with her most holy bones supporting her flesh.”[37]

As Mother of God Mary must reign with Him in heaven, and that in her body, because it is through her flesh and blood that she became Mother of God. And because her divine Maternity, the nearest approach to the Hypostatic Union, is founded on her sacred body, a permanent separation of that body from her person would be not only unbecoming in the extreme, but unthinkable, almost like the separation of the Humanity of Christ from His Divinity. Christ owed it to Himself and to her to glorify His Mother immediately. If she is co-redemptrix and the first and finished fruit of Redemption, it is an injury to Him and to her to think that the benefits of Redemption are yet to be fully enjoyed by her. If her Redemption is anticipated, how can her Resurrection be postponed? If the most imperfect participation in the sufferings of Christ merits resurrection even for those who caused those sufferings to Christ, are we to put her, who without sin merited to be co-victim with Him, on a par with the rest of mankind to be resurrected at the end of time? If the glory of Christ’s Resurrection so redounded into others that “graves were opened and many bodies of saints that had slept arose, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection came into the Holy City and appeared to many”,[38] how could He withhold that glory from His own Mother? If where He is He wished His servants to be, would He not wish His Mother to be there before all others? To sum up, without Mary’s resurrection and glorification there would remain a great void unfilled: God’s work would remain incomplete, Christ’s Redemption would not be a fully accomplished fact, the Church would lack a finished prototype, creation would be without its crown, earth would not have been lifted above the stars, heaven would not have become earth. And therefore, “the Virgin Mary was assumed into the ethereal chamber, wherein the King of Kings is seated on a star-bedecked throne”.[39] “It was becoming,” wrote St. John Damascene, “that this divine dwelling, this undug well of cleansing water, this unploughed field of celestial bread, this never irrigated vineyard of heavenly grapes, this olive-tree of paternal compassion, laden with ever-new foliage and beautiful fruits, was never confined to the inner parts of the earth; but rather, as He on the third day had raised from the sepulchre that holy and incorrupt body which He had taken from her and had united to His own person, so also this mother was snatched from the grave and conformed to her Son; and as He had descended to her, so she, as being closely united with that greater and more perfect tabernacle (i.e., the flesh of Christ), was taken up into heaven. It was becoming that she, who had received the Word of God in the guest-chamber of her womb, should be placed in the tents of her Son; and as the Lord had said that He must be about His Father’s business, so it was also fitting for the mother to dwell in the home of her Son, i.e., in the house of the Lord and the dwelling of our God. It was becoming that the body of her who had preserved her virginity without stain should also after death be preserved incorrupt. It was fitting that she who had looked up to her Son on the cross, receiving there the sword through her soul which in bearing Him she had escaped, should behold that Son now seated with His Father.”[40]

Therefore, all heaven must have eagerly invited her in the words of the Prophet Jeremias: “Return, O virgin of Israel, return to these thy cities. How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter. For the Lord had created a new thing upon the earth: A woman shall compass a Man.”[41] And at last that God-Man has encompassed her; she who clothed Him with humanity has been clothed by Him with divinity. So that even the Blessed in heaven long for her vision: “Return, return, O Sunamite; return, return that we may behold Thee.”[42] Peter de la Celle has paraphrased these words thus: “First, return from the captivity of the world because she should not be held in captivity, by whom those who are in captivity are to be freed. Secondly, return from mankind without the corruption of the flesh, because, as thou art immune from the corruption of sin, so must thou go into immortality, mortality being taken away by the grace of God. Thirdly, return to the freedom of the glory of the children of God, because, as sin never reigned in thy mortal body, so art thou worthy, in that same virginal flesh, fully to enjoy the freedom of the spirit, which the angels enjoyed in their spiritual substance from the moment of their creation, or rather, of their confirmation. Fourthly, return, that we may gaze upon thee in the exalted position among angels and in the glory of those already beatified, because, as we long to be in the presence of thy Son, so we desire to gaze upon the glory and beauty of thy face, and we shall be illuminated on all sides by the light of thy countenance.”[43] Mary’s Assumption was the most pleasant surprise heaven has ever had: “Who is she that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatic spices, of myrrh and frankincense, and of all the powders of the perfumer?”[44] The Church contemplated this ravishing spectacle and broke forth in these words: “Most prudent Virgin, whither goest thou, like the dawn exceeding bright? Daughter of Sion, thou art all comely and sweet; beautiful as the moon, exalted as the sun.”[45]

On May 13, 1942, the great bowl of Cova da Iria in Fatima, overflowed with a veritable sea of humanity. The twenty-fifth anniversary of Our Lady’s apparition there had made it the focal centre of Catholic piety, and more than seven hundred thousand pilgrims flowed into it to give thanks to their Mother and proclaim her their Queen. The prelates of Portugal had assembled there headed by the Papal Nuncio. The festive solemnity and the spiritual enthusiasm of the occasion were of a magnitude and depth that recalled the days when the Israelites followed Moses out of Egypt or the whole Christendom rallied round the Pope for the Crusades. At the climax of that mammoth manifestation of faith and love, when the Papal Legate had placed a precious crown on the brow of Our Lady’s statue, and hundreds of thousands of white handkerchiefs fluttered like silent angel wings wafting prayers to heaven, a voice rang out of the vast valley, clean and ethereal like a message from heaven. It was the Holy Father Pipe Pius XII speaking over the radio. “”your great concourse, the fervour of your prayers, the thunder of your acclamations, all the holy enthusiasm which vibrates without cease in your hearts, and finally the sacred rite which in this moment of incomparable triumph has just been performed,” he said, “call to Our Mind another multitude innumerably greater, other cries of  worship far more ardent, other triumphs yet more divine, another hour solemnly eternal, the endless day of eternity when the glorious Virgin, triumphantly entering the Heavenly Homeland through the nine blessed choirs of Angels, was raised even to the Throne of the Most Holy Trinity, Who placed upon her brow the triple diadem of glory, and presenting her to the celestial court seated at the right hand of the immortal King of Ages, crowned her Queen of the Universe. And the King saw that she was truly worthy of such honour, glory and empire, because more filled with grace, more holy, more beautiful, more divine – incomparably more so than the greatest saints and the sublimest angels.”

Mary’s Assumption is one of the most beautiful and reassuring of Catholic truths. It is one the faithful have instinctively taken for granted as a matter of fact and of common-sense. “It was surely fitting then,” wrote Cardinal Newman, “it was becoming, that she should be taken up into heaven and not lie in the grave till Christ’s second coming, who had passed a life of sanctity and miracles such as hers. All the works of God are in a beautiful harmony; they are carried on to the end as they begin. This is the difficulty which men of the world find in believing miracles at all; they think these break the order and consistency of God’s visible world, not knowing that they do but subserve a higher order of things, and introduce a supernatural perfection. But at least, my brethren, when one miracle is wrought, it may be expected to draw others after it for the completion of what is begun. Miracles must be wrought for some great end; and if the course of things fall back again with a natural order before its termination, how could we but feel a disappointment? And if we were told that this certainly was to be, how could we but judge the information improbable and difficult to believe? Now this applies to the history of Our Lady. I say it would be a greater miracle if, her life being what it was, her death was like that of other men, than if it were such as to correspond to her life.”[46] The Fathers of the Vatican Council, after exposing fully the case for the dogma, concluded their celebrated petition in these words: “Things being so, Most Holy Father, we the Fathers of the Vatican Council convened by Your Holiness, humbly prostrate at Your feet, most earnestly beg Your Holiness to confirm, proclaim and define in this Sacred Synod, by Your Supreme authority, that the Mother of God lives in Heaven in her immaculate soul and virginal body.” This definition was sought not to clear a doubt in the minds of the faithful, but to make their joy complete. But the Vatical Council had a premature end, and the Church was denied this joy.

Since then the faithful with their pastors have been continually petitioning the Holy See to hasten the day of the unveiling of the heavenly vision of the “Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”. That long awaited moment arrived at last on November 1st, 1950, when, before an immense sea of pilgrims that filled the great piazza of St. Peter’s and overflowed in all directions, the infallible voice of Pius XII defined as follows:

“Therefore, the august Mother of God, intimately associated with Jesus Christ by ‘one and the same’ decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, inviolate virgin in her divine maternity, generous associate of the Divine Redeemer who fully conquered sin and its consequences, has at last obtained, as the supreme crown of her privileges, that she may be preserved immune from the corruption of the sepulchre and, like her Son, conquering death, be borne to heaven in body and soul, there to shine as Queen on the right hand of her Son, the Immortal King of Ages.

“And because the universal Church, in whom abides the Spirit of Truth who infallibly guides her to an ever more perfect understanding of revealed truths, has manifested her faith in manifold ways down the centuries, and because the Bishops all over the world almost unanimously request that the truth of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven be defined as a dogma of divine and Catholic faith – which truth is founded in the Sacred Scriptures, deeply rooted in the hearts of the faithful, confirmed by ecclesiastical worship from the earliest times, is in perfect harmony with the rest of the revealed truths and splendidly explained and enunciated by the industry, knowledge and wisdom of the theologians – We believe the moment preordained by Divine Providence has now arrived that We may solemnly declare this sublime privilege of the same Virgin Mother.

“Wherefore, after having repeatedly raised to God Our suppliant prayers and invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, to the glory of Almighty God, who lavished on the Virgin Mary His special favours, to the honour of His Son, the Immortal King of Ages and conqueror of sin and death, to the increase of the glory of the same august Mother and to the joy and exultation of the whole Church, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and Our own, We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that: THE IMMACULATE MOTHER OF GOD, EVER VIRGIN MARY, WAS, ON THE COMPLETION OF HER EARTHLY LIFE, ASSUMED BODY AND SOUL INTO HEAVENLY GLORY.”[47]


[1] Serm. In Deip. Assumpt.

[2] Homil. In Dormit.

[3] Orat. De Virg. Dormit.

[4] Ps. cxxxi, 8.

[5] Comm. in P. iii, S. Thom. Q xxxvii, art. 4.

[6] De Fest. B.M.V., P. II, n.120.

[7] PL., lxxviii, 133.

[8] P.L., lxxii, 476 and lxxvii, 244.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Janssens, P. II, Sect. iv. membr. 3.

[12] Orat. In Concept. S. Deiparae No. 22.

[13] Mansi, SS. Concil. nova collectio, xxv (1782), 1218.

[14] Janssens, loco cit.

[15] De Cononiz, SS., I, i, c. 42, 15.

[16] PL, XL. 1144, Cap. ii, 2; 1148, cap. viii.

[17] Janssens, loco. Cit.

[18] Orat. In Dormit. B.M.V.

[19] Serm. xii de S. Maria.

[20] Opusc. viii in Salut. Angelic.

[21] Janssens, loco cit.

[22] Homil. De Dormit. Deiparae.

[23] Panarion, Haer, 78, no. ii.

[24] Op. cit.

[25] In Luc. lib, ii no. 61

[26] Orat. ii de Dormit, no. 2.

[27] Serm. ii de Assumpt.

[28] Orat. II de Dormit: PG., xcvii, 108.

[29] Matt.  xxii, 30.

[30] In men.  15 Aug. ad Matut.

[31] Mariology, Vol. II, Ch. viii.

[32] Ps.-Augustine, Lib. de Assumpt.

[33] Ps. xv, 10.

[34] Opusc. viii de Salut. Angelic.

[35] Epist. 23; PL., xl, App. S. Aug. 1147.

[36] Ps. xliv, 11.

[37] PG., xxviii, 938.

[38] Matt. xxvii, 52, 53.

[39] Vesp. Fest. Assumpt.

[40] Orat. ii de Dormit., no. 14.

[41] Jer.  xxxi, 21, 22.

[42] Cant. vi,12.

[43] Serm 68 de Assumpt.

[44] Cant. iii, 6.

[45] Vesp. Fest. Assumpt.

[46] To mixed Congr., Discourse xviii.

[47] Const. Ap. Munificentissimus Deus.