The dogma of the Assumption expresses the Church’s Tradition
18 August 2021
By Cristina Siccardi
“It was fitting that she who in childbirth had kept her virginity unsullied should also keep her body without any corruption after death. It was fitting that she who had carried in her womb the Creator made a child should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the bride of the Father should dwell in the heavenly courts. It was fitting that she who had seen her Son on the cross, receiving in her heart that sword of pain from which she had been immune in bringing him into the world should contemplate him seated at the right hand of the Father. It was fitting that the Mother of God should possess what belongs to the Son and be honoured by all creatures as Mother and Handmaid of God”.
So declares the father of the Church St John Damascene (ca 675-749). It was fitting… the Catholic Faith is always a religion of logic, a religion of reason, not of sentimentality. However, the believing man on earth will never attain “perfect knowledge” of the Faith, since only the Creator is All-knowing, and for him there will always remain a portion of Mystery. Otherwise what sort of Faith would it be?
Jesus said to the incredulous Saint Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed!” (Jn 20:29). The merciful Judge will reward those who have remained trusting and faithful to the teachings of the incarnate Word without their having “touched” those teachings with their hand. In fact, in the next life Faith and Hope will disappear, as these theological virtues will no longer be necessary, having been perfectly fulfilled in Christ. Only Charity will remain. Thus believing in the Tradition of the Church is both a logical and an indispensable reality, otherwise Catholic Faith is not authentic.
Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus of 1 November of the Holy Year 1950, in which he raises the glorification of Mary Most Holy with her Assumption into Heaven in soul and body to the level of a dogma of Faith, fits perfectly into the golden braid of the Church’s Tradition, which is able to withstand the breakers of human history. Salvation history follows a path very different from human ways, which most of the time are prompt to act against the will of God; but the intervention of divine Providence bursts, in spite of everything, into human history and is stronger than the demonic darkness that constantly threatens, like roaring lions and wolves that disguise themselves as sheep, the course of individual and collective life. The pontiff himself opens the Marian Constitution in these terms:
“The most bountiful God, who is almighty, the plan of whose providence rests upon wisdom and love, tempers, in the secret purpose of his own mind, the sorrows of peoples and of individual men by means of joys that he interposes in their lives from time to time, in such a way that, under different conditions and in different ways, all things may work together unto good for those who love him.” (cf. Rm 8:28)
With words that refer to considerations perfectly aligned with our present times, in which “very severe calamities… have taken place and… many have strayed away from truth and virtue”, the pope establishes a perfect connection between the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and that of her Assumption: by His death Christ has conquered sin and death, and the triumph and victory over both are also shared by those who, by virtue of Christ, have been supernaturally reborn in baptism.
“Yet, according to the general rule, God does not will to grant to the just the full effect of the victory over death until the end of time has come. And so it is that the bodies of even the just are corrupted after death, and only on the last day will they be joined, each to its own glorious soul. Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule. She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body.”
In addition to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, pope Pacelli also includes the liturgy as the foundation of the dogma of the Assumption. A decidedly hot topic in our days, in which the revolution in this regard has done dramatic work in contributing to undermine doctrine. Pius XII cites as a source (one must not forget that he wrote in 1950), to corroborate the creed of the Assumption, the Liturgy of both East and West, and while the former remains unchanged that of the West was turned upside down and poisoned at the end of the 1960s.
Drawing from the source of the sacred liturgy brings compelling vitality to the truthfulness of doctrine as believed and practiced:
“Since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and subject, as such, to the supreme teaching authority of the Church, it can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly, of no little value, towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine.” (Mediator Dei: AAS 39 (1947), p. 541; EE 6/475)
In the Byzantine liturgy the bodily assumption of Mary Most Holy is repeatedly connected not only with her dignity as Mother of God, but also with her other privileges, especially with her virginal motherhood, predetermined by a celestial plan:
“To you God, king of the universe, granted things that are above nature; for as in childbirth he kept you a virgin so also in the sepulchre he kept incorrupt your body and by divine translation made it partake of glory.” (Menaei totius anni)
Unlike the numerous wordy documents of the contemporary Church that affirm, through dialectical mechanisms, ambiguities and even outright error, along with opinions evidently disconnected from its Tradition, the preconciliar magisterium always used, following the example of the teaching of Jesus and of the Gospels, streamlined language adhering to logic, clarity, and precision. In this case as well, in Munificentissimus Deus the author asserts with determination that “since the liturgy of the Church does not engender the Catholic faith, but rather springs from it, in such a way that the practices of the sacred worship proceed from the faith as the fruit comes from the tree, it follows that the holy Fathers and the great Doctors, in the homilies and sermons they gave the people on this feast day, did not draw their teaching from the feast itself as from a primary source, but rather they spoke of this doctrine as something already known and accepted by Christ’s faithful. They presented it more clearly. They offered more profound explanations of its meaning and nature, bringing out into sharper light the fact that this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death, her heavenly glorification after the example of her only begotten Son, Jesus Christ”.
The wonder of the only true religion in the world lies precisely in the clarity of its principles, but also in its Tradition, without which there is disquiet, unhappiness, and destruction.
Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus – an expression that refers to what Christ himself said: He who is not with me is against me (Mt 12:30); he who is not against us is for us (Mk 9:40) and to what the first pope stated: “This [Jesus] is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12)
This Tradition dovetails perfectly with the dogma of the Assumption, which was given a theological explanation by Doctors of the Church like Saint Albert the Great, teacher of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who after assembling as evidence of this truth various arguments based on Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, and the Sacred Liturgy, concludes:
“From these reasons and authorities and from many others it is clear that the most blessed Mother of God was assumed in body and soul above the choirs of angels. And this we believe to be absolutely true.” (Mariale sive quaestiones super Evang. “Missus est”, q. 132)
Moreover, in a talk given on the day of Mary’s Annunciation, in explaining the greeting of the angel Gabriel: “Hail, O full of grace…”, the universal doctor makes a comparison between Eve and the Most Blessed Virgin, who was immune to the fourfold curse to which Eve was subjected.
The great Jesuit and cardinal St Robert Bellarmine exclaims:
“And who, I pray, could believe that the ark of holiness, the domicile of the Word, the temple of the Holy Spirit has passed away? My soul abhors just to think that the virginal flesh that conceived God, gave birth to him, fed him, carried him, was either reduced to ashes or became food for worms.” (Conciones habitae Lovanii, concio 40: De Assumptione B. Mariae Virginis)
Along the same lines, St Francis de Sales asks in his gentle manner:
“Who is that son who, if he could, would not bring his mother back to life and would not bring her after death with him to Heaven?” (Oeuvres de St François de Sales, Sermon autographe pour la fete de l’Assomption).
With the same logical rigour, the bishop Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori writes:
“Jesus preserved Mary’s body from corruption because it would have redounded to his dishonour if putrefaction had spoiled that virginal flesh in which he had clothed himself.” (The Glories of Mary, part II, disc. 1, 28)
And St Peter Canisius does not mince words in countering the fallacious thought of those who do not believe in the glorification not only of the soul, but also of the body of the Mother of God, such as the Protestants, who believe neither in the Immaculate Conception, nor in her perpetual virginity, nor in her Assumption into Heaven:
“This judgment […] is so upheld in the soul of the pious faithful and so accepted by the whole Church that those who deny that the body of Mary was assumed into heaven should not even be listened to with patience, but jeered at as too pertinacious, or completely reckless and animated by a spirit that is indeed not Catholic but heretical” (De Maria Virgine)
But to defraud the Iánua cáeli [Gate of Heaven] of such divine gifts means precluding her maternal, royal, and powerful intercession, which has no equal in the Heart of Jesus.
This article was first published by Corrispondenza Romana in Italian.