Magnificent procession of joy

On the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption Dom Gueranger writes that Our Blessed Lady remained on earth after her Son's ascension in order to bring forth the birth of His Church; she could not remain for ever in exile but she would not depart this vale of tears for the glories of heaven until the nascent Church had achieved that growth and strength which alone a mother can give to her child. As the renowned liturgist Pius Parsch expresses it, "so the mystical body of the Man-God received in its first years the same care from Mary as the divine Child our Emmanuel."

On the great feast of the Assumption, acclaimed by many as the greatest of the Marian festivals, the Church is not just commemorating the departure of Mary but She is rejoicing in her triumphant entry into Heaven, she who was so wonderfully described by Wordsworth as "our tainted nature's proudest boast."

Sacred Liturgy: Magnificent procession of joy

In the sacred liturgy the ascent of the Mother of God to greet her divine Son is presented as a bridal march to all the faithful, a magnificent procession of joy. As Parsch again comments so aptly, "We can even go further and include her coronation as Queen of all the saints." On this fifteenth day of August the Church celebrates the unique fact of Mary's actual bodily assumption into Heaven. As regards her death we are not in possession of any records that are historically certain; even the place of Mary's death is traditionally disputed between two rival cities, Jerusalem and Ephesus.

Biblical roots in the depiction of Mary as the New Eve

In 1950 in the apostolic Consitution Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII infallibly declared: "Mary, immaculate and perpetually virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life was assumed into heavenly glory." The dogma has its biblical roots in the depiction of Mary as the New Eve. Death is the result of the fall. If Our Blessed Lady is in fact the New Eve, who shares in the New Adam's definitive victory over sin, she should also share in his victory over death and physical decay.

It was also most unbecoming that the body which was made to bear the Second Person of the Holy Trinity should taste or see corruption. So God took His new ark into Heaven. In the Book of the Apocalypse right after his vision of the ark of the covenant, St. John sees a great Woman, the New Eve, the Virgin Mary, the image and exemplary model of the Church, thus demonstrating that Early Christians believed in the Assumption of Mary.

Transitus Mariae

The fact of the Assumption is shown by the lack of relics, empty tombs, the existence of pious legends and stories such as Transitus Mariae. This work is extant in all the Christian languages of the time: Syriac, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Ethiopian. These manuscripts date back to the 4th and 5th centuries and it is very clear that the Assumption was a widespread belief of these times. This of course implies that the belief was of even earlier origin. Indeed some scholars date an early Syrian document to the late 200s. Even if our reliable and undisputed documents date to the 4th and 5th and 6th centuries, the feast was universally celebrated in the Christian world early on in both East and West.

Mary may not have died

The feast originated in the East where it was celebrated under the title of the Dormition, the falling asleep. Pope Pius XII refers often in his apostolic Constitution to the death of the Virgin prior to her assumption, and the consistent tradition holds that Our Blessed Lady did die. The Pope actually states that not only did the body of the Blessed Virgin not suffer corruption or decay but that She gained out of her departure a triumph, her heavenly glorification, "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." The phrase "having completed the course of her earthly life" could be described as ambiguous as it appears to allow for the possibility that Mary may not have died before her assumption. It does not enter as such into the definition of the dogma and so one is free to entertain either view, even if tradition clearly believes our Lady died like any other human being.

However there is so much more to the dogma than just dying and which is admirably expressed in the texts both of the vigil and the feast. Lastly it would be somewhat incorrect and improper to refer to the ascension of Our Blessed Lady into Heaven. She was assumed body and soul; whereas Jesus ascended by his own power into Heaven, His Mother was taken up into Heaven by the very power of God.