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When you assume… – The Pillar


Monday, August 15 is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

You’d assume you’re an expert on the subject, but here are a few things you might need to know – for example, isn’t today a holy day of obligation?

(Parts of this explainer – but not all – have already been published by The Pillar! We ♻️! )

Assumption of the Virgin in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Annibale Carracci, 1601. Credit: Jose Luiz/wikimedia. CC BY SA 4.0
  • Yes. The Assumption is generally a holy day obligation.

  • No. If you’re reading this in the United States on August 15, 2022, you don’t have to go to mass today.

Why not?

Canon law gives national episcopal conferences the power to remove certain days of obligation, or to postpone them to Sunday.

In 1991, the American Episcopal Conference determined that:

“Each time January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, Solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, Solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or a Monday, the precept to attend the mass is abrogated. .”

If you’re counting the dots at home, the next time August 15 falls on a Monday comes in 2033, then 2039. Assumption will fall on a Sunday in 2027.

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God will fall on a Sunday next year, and on a Monday in 2024.

The solemnity of All Saints will fall on a Sunday in 2026 and on a Monday in 2027.

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In 1950, Pope Pius XII dogmatically and infallibly defined the doctrine of the Assumption. The pope put it this way:

The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into celestial glory.

While all who are saved in Christ will experience the resurrection of their bodies, the Church teaches that because Mary was conceived without original sin, “she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body. “.

Interestingly, the Church does not definitively teach whether Mary died before her Assumption.

Theologians generally taught that Mary died and her body and soul were then taken up to heaven, where she is crowned queen of heaven and earth. In the East, theologians generally spoke of Mary’s “dormition” – a kind of fall into peaceful sleep and death, which preceded her Assumption.

But when Pope Pius XII defined the dogmatic understanding of the Church of the Assumption, he took no position on whether the Blessed Virgin Mary had actually died before being taken to heaven.

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Christians of the second and third centuries – just a few hundred years after Christ – believed that Mary had been taken up into heaven at the end of her life. A text from this period, called the Transitus Mariae, even gives a poetic (and non-canonical) account of the Assumption:

The apostles… laid down his precious and holy body in Gethsemane in a new tomb. And behold, a sweet-smelling perfume proceeded from the holy sepulcher of Our Lady the mother of God; and for three days the voices of invisible angels were heard glorifying Christ our God, who was born of her. And when the third day was over, the voices were no longer heard; and from that moment all knew that his flawless and precious body had been transferred to heaven.

There were other traditions in the early Church about Mary – some said she died a martyr, while others that she suffered a normal death and burial.

But in the fifth and sixth centuries a number of books on the Assumption began to emerge, drawing on earlier communities and traditions, particularly in the East.

The Assumption began to be celebrated annually as a liturgical feast in the East in the 5th or 6th century, and in the 8th century in the West. It was a commonly accepted doctrine in the Middle Ages, even by some Protestant reformers, including Martin Luther.

Pius XII declared the dogma of the Assumption as Europe recovered – spiritually, economically, socially and politically – from the ravages of World War II. In the aftermath of the war, and as Europe itself began to change in ways previously unimaginable, the pope had encouraged a resurgent wave of Marian devotion and increased study by theologians of the theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In Munificentissimus Deus, the pope was clear about his reasons:

We can hope that those who meditate on the glorious example that Mary offers us will be increasingly convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to accomplishing the will of the heavenly Father and to doing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals arising therefrom threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by stirring up discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see plainly how point goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally, we hope that belief in the bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven will strengthen our belief in our own resurrection and make it more effective.

And in a 1946 encyclicalthe pope made a resounding call for a dogmatic definition of the Assumption of Mary:

…numerous petitions (those received from 1849 to 1940 have been collected in two volumes which, together with appropriate commentaries, have recently been printed), from cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, priests, religious of both sexes, associations, universities and countless private individuals have reached the Holy See, all pleading that the bodily Assumption into heaven of the Blessed Virgin be defined and proclaimed as a dogma of faith. And certainly no one is unaware that this was ardently requested by nearly two hundred fathers at the Vatican Council.

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There are traditional processions and festivals in countries around the world to celebrate the Assumption of Mary. And because August 15 is for many Catholics towards the end of summer, many traditions involve spending the day at the beach or by a lake – in some cultures a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is taken to the beach while the sea is blessed.

In Poland, the Assumption is traditionally celebrated with a herb festival, and herbs are blessed in churches, as the herb harvest peaks in mid-August.

For some Catholic countries, the Assumption falls right in the middle of the traditional August closing – so the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated with a sort of long holiday.

The Assumption is certainly a good day to recite the glorious mysteries of the rosary and spend time — perhaps by the water — with family.

For some people, however, the Assumption is also the start of a period of fasting – St. Michael’s Lent – a custom started 800 years ago by St. Francis.

Francis observed a period of fasting from the Assumption until the feast of Saint Michael on September 29, in honor of Saint Michael the Archangel, and as a kind of spiritual discipline. It was during this period of fasting that Saint Francis received the stigmata in 1224.

As St. Michael’s Lent waned in popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries, some Catholics began to retain it again.

The Assumption would be a customary day to get engaged in some parts of France, as newly engaged couples would ask for Mary’s intercession together. Guys, we’re just saying…