May I begin by wishing all visitors to Catholicism Pure and Simple a Happy Feast. Along with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th), today is one of the most important feasts of Our Blessed Lady in the Church calendar.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us ‘Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:
In giving birth you kept your virginity, in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God, and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.‘
Historically, we can go back to the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem about 336AD. when the memories of the life of Our Lord began to be publicly celebrated by the people. One of the memories about Our Blessed Lady centred around the ‘Tomb of Mary’ close to Mount Zion where an early Christian community had been established.
On the hill itself was reputed to have been the ‘Place of Dormition’ – the spot where Mary had died, and the ‘Tomb of Mary’ was where she was buried. At this time the ‘Memory of Mary’ was being celebrated. This would become the Feast of the Assumption.
For many years this ‘Memory of Mary was celebrated mainly in Palestine, but became extended to all the Churches of the East by the 7th century. By the time the celebration reached Rome it became the ‘Falling Asleep’ (Dormitio) of the Mother of God. The name was soon changed to the ‘Assumption of Mary’ – since there was more to the feast than her dying. It also proclaimed that she had been taken up, body and soul, into heaven. This belief was ancient, dating back to the apostles themselves. There were no relics of Mary to be venerated – and an empty tomb stood on the edge of Jerusalem. Today the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition of Mary stands on the spot.
In 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution ‘Munificentissimus Deus’ Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary, a dogma of the Catholic Church in these words “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven”
With this, an ancient belief became Catholic doctrine and the Assumption was declared a truth revealed by God.
Today we celebrate this Feast of Our Blessed Lady and look to our own relationship with God, and to the hope that we too will follow Our Lady when our life is ended.