|St. Mary's Cathedral in Cheyenne, WY|
With this solemn proclamation from the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus on November 1st, 1950 Pope Pius XII declared the fact of Mary's Assumption into heaven to be a part of our faith. So we need to understand what this feast is all about, largely for our own good and partially so we can explain to our Protestant friends just why we are coming to church on August 15th. So I want to look briefly at the term "Assumption," the history of if the feast, and what it means for us today.
The term "Assumption" refers to Mary being taken body and soul into heaven at end of her life. We say Jesus "ascended" into heaven, which indicates that he went to heaven by his own divine power, whereas we say Mary was "assumed" into heaven, meaning she was taken into heaven by the power of God. One important note: Pope Pius XII said that "having completed her earthly life," Mary was assumed into heaven. We don't know if Mary was assumed before or after the moment of her death, so the Pope intentionally left it unclear. In the East they call this feast the Dormition of Mary, which refers to her "falling asleep."
|His Holiness, Pope Pius XII|
But even if the history doesn't interest you, it's still important to consider what Mary and her Assumption mean to us today. The Assumption is the result of a sinless life lived in perfect union with God. She was the ark that carried God himself, she was the blessed one who heard the word of God and observed it. By her sinless life and her perfect obedience, she enjoys already that perfect union of body and soul that we will all enjoy after our resurrection. This is important: what Mary has now, we will all have also when Christ destroys death once and for all. It's only logical that Mary, the one who never sinned, the one who didn't suffer the corrupting effects of original sin, wouldn't have to wait for the resurrection at the end of time for her body and soul to be united. We honor her for this because it reminds us of what we hope to enjoy one day.