Although we do not celebrate Our Lady’s dormition or death as a liturgical feast day with a Mass, the Catholic Church has, from the earliest times, celebrated her glorious Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, on August 15. As of 1950, with Pius XII’s Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, Mary’s Assumption is now a de fide dogma of the Faith. To anyone who would deny it, anathema sit.
I was surprised to see certain errors on a Catholic website pertaining to Our Lady’s Assumption. Consequently, I thought I would make a few points to clarify what we believe and do not believe regarding the Assumption.
First of all, Our Lady was not, as one Catholic writer alleged, the first human person of the New Covenant to enter Heaven. The writer did not say she was the first human person to enter Heaven body and soul but that she simply was the first human being to enter Heaven after death. Of course, our readers know that Our Savior Jesus Christ was not a human person, but a divine Person with a human nature. The author had the most pious intentions. He wanted to give glory to Mary in her Assumption by stating that she — shall I say — opened the doors of Heaven for the rest of humanity by leading the other lesser saints in. Actually, this is what he did say. I am not punching my words into his keyboard.
Well, this is not so.
Jesus opened up the gates of Heaven for all the faithful departed (and purged) with His Ascension. This, preeminently, would soon include His Blessed Mother. Saint Joseph, with all the righteous departed who awaited the Savior in Limbo, entered Heaven with Him on Ascension Thursday.
I would assume that the well meaning author meant that what is unique to Mary is that she was the first human person to enter Heaven bodily. That, he is free to believe, although it is not a dogma of Faith. However — and this is a huge “however” — to say that Mary was the first human person whose body was assumed into Heaven would mean that Saint Joseph (and perhaps many others who rose from the dead in the holy city after Easter Sunday, as we read in the Gospel of Matthew) would have returned to their tombs to undergo decomposition again. This is, of course, absurd. Note, too, that no church has ever claimed to have first class relics of Saint Joseph or Saint John the Apostle, both of whose bodies are piously believed to be in Heaven.
I am reminded of an error of Pope John XXII, one of the Avignon popes (1309-1377), who preached from the pulpit that the faithful departed do not enter into eternal beatitude and rejoice in the beatific vision until after the Last Judgment and the resurrection of the body. Until then, they are in a suspended state of natural happiness. He did eventually recant this opinion, which was condemned by his successor Benedict XII.
Let me end with the praise of Mary. It is more commonly believed throughout the history of the Church that the Mother of God actually chose to die in imitation of her Son. Many saints can be quoted in support of this. In fact, I do not know of any saint who denied it. What the Church calls “the Dormition of Mary” (the Sleep of Mary) does not mean that she never died, but that her death was the death of sweet love. She fell asleep. Her heart ceased to beat that August day in the year 58 because she could no longer bear the separation from her Beloved Son. Her mortal mission was consummated. And she was buried. For forty hours, just as with Jesus, her holy body lay in a tomb.
I affirmed that she chose to die. In fact, Our Lady related this fact in detail to the Spanish mystic, Maria d’Agreda. She did not have to die. Why not? Because Our Holy Mother was conceived without original sin. One of the the penalties for original sin is death. “But by the envy of the devil, death came into the world” (Wisdom 2:24).
She was to be the Theotokos, the God-bearer, the Mother of God. It was most fitting that she never be under the devil — not even for one instant. Rather he had to “lie in wait” (Genesis 3:15) for her heel to crush his head.
Therefore, death had no dominion over Mary. “Thou wilt not give thy holy one to see corruption” (Psalm 15:10). This applies, of course, to Our Lord, but also to His Mother.
What, then, makes Mary’s Assumption so special? It is the fact that she merited it by grace. No other creature could claim, or will claim, this.
And she is the Queen of Heaven. Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary on the feast of All Saints, November 1. A most fitting day for this august definition, for Mary is the Queen of All Saints. The Queenship of Mary is celebrated on May 31. Now, how could she be crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth if her body were not in Heaven? With her father, Saint Joachim (whose feast day follows that of the Assumption) escorting her to the altar, she humbly knelt as Jesus placed this most exquisite crown upon her beautiful head amidst the sighs of the angels.
O Dulcis, O Pia, Puella Maria Regina!