There are four defined dogmas of the Faith concerning Our Lady’s divine prerogatives. They are: 1) Her Immaculate Conception, 2) Her Perpetual Virginity, 3) Her Divine Maternity, and 4) Her Glorious Assumption. How fitting it is that she whose fiat brought down the Son of God into her womb should also reign as Queen of Heaven with a glorified body. To be crowned, a queen, like a king, must have a body. Jesus is King of kings and His Mother reigns on the throne forever by His side. It is this fourth dogma, the Assumption, that we will celebrate on August 15. Pope Pius XII, who, on November 1 in 1950, defined the corporeal Assumption of Our Lady in his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus also issued an encyclical in 1954 on October 11 on “The Queenship of Mary” establishing it as a feast day on the last day of the Marian month of May.
Pope Benedict XIV, who died in 1758 — two hundred years before the definition of Pius XII — called the Assumption of Mary the common belief of the east and the west, declaring it “blasphemous” to say otherwise. (See Catholic Encyclopedia on “The Assumption”)
Saint John Damascene, who died in 749, wrote:
“St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.” (same source, Catholic Encyclopedia)
The earliest testimony in the western Church proclaiming the Assumption of Mary was given by Saint Gregory of Tours who died in 594. He wrote: “The Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, she rejoices with the Lord’s chosen ones.” (Book of Miracles, 1:4)
The three other dogmas concerning Our Lady’s divine prerogatives were defined as follows:
The Council of Ephesus, 431, declared Mary Mother of God (Divine Maternity).The feast day for the Divine Maternity is October 11.
The Council of Constantnople II, 553, declared Mary “Ever-Virgin.”
Our Latin liturgy has several invocations to Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin (as do the eastern rites). Of these we are all well familiar.
The Immaculate Conception was defined by Blessed Pope Pius IX on December 8 1854 in his encyclical Ineffabilis Deus.
It is interesting that no heresiarch of the Protestant rebellion denied the perpetual virginity of Mary — neither Luther, nor Calvin, nor Zwingli, nor Wesley. In fact, they defended it against other ignorant heretics of their time. Except for the heretics Helvidius and Jovinian in the late fourth century (the Ebionite sect, too, earlier added this denial to other peculiar heresies), it was always universally affirmed as of the apostolic Faith.
Saint Jerome (+420) thoroughly refuted the impious Helvidius’ blasphemy denying the perpetual virginity in his treatise Contra Helvidium.
The evangelicals in America, by means of their impious tracts, propagated on a wide scale the heresy that Our Lady had other children. These enemies of the Church made abuse of Saint Paul’s reference to the Apostle James the Less as the “brother of the Lord,” (Galatians 1:19) when the term, as customary among the Jews, also applied to cousins.
Hear Saint Augustine (+430): “It was not the visible sun, but its invisible Creator who consecrated this day for us, when the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when he was invisible, she too was created. A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?” (Letters 186.1)
The Lateran Council, held under Pope Saint Martin I in the year 649, in its third canon, defined:
“If any one does not, in accord with the Holy Fathers, acknowledge the holy and ever virgin and immaculate Mary as really and truly the Mother of God, in as much as she, in the fulness of time and without human seed, conceived by the Holy Spirit God the Word Himself, who before all time was born of God the Father, and without loss of her integrity brought Him forth, and after His birth preserved her virginity inviolate, let him be condemned.”
Pope Paul IV in the Apostolic Constitution Cum quorumdam (1555), confirmed by Pope Clement VIII in 1603 in the Brief Dominici Gregis, condemned as heretical the following error, namely that “… the Blessed Virgin Mary is not true Mother of God and that she did not remain forever in her virginal integrity, before Christ’s birth, in the birth itself, and perpetually after His birth.” This repeats the traditional formula, ante partum, in partu, et post partum (before giving birth, during birth, and after birth) concerning Our Lady’s perpetual virginity.
Mary’s Assumption into glory is unique for a creature. Yet, so fitting! Had Adam not sinned, there would be no death. But the bodies of the just, who fell into personal sins, and repented, still would have had to wait for the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ before entering into glory. Mary knew no personal sin, nor did she have original sin. She chose to die and be buried in imitation of her Son. And, after forty hours in the tomb, she, just as Jesus, rose from the dead to the joy of the angels who escorted her into heaven where she would be crowned Queen. This is the fourth and fifth mystery of the Holy Rosary.
Two other divine prerogatives of Our Lady may one day be defined. They are her role as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of all Graces.
For an excellent and exhaustive article on Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity see Mark Alessio’s treatise on our website here.