The Amazing History of the Feast of The Assumption
On August 15th, Catholics across the globe observe the solemn occasion of the Assumption of Mary, which commemorates the conclusion of her earthly existence and her ascent into heaven.
However, although this feast day is relatively modern, its historical origins and enigmatic essence trace back to the earliest centuries of Christian faith.
Within Catholic doctrine, it is taught that upon the culmination of her earthly life, Mary’s body and soul were assumed into heaven by God.
The dogma of the Assumption of Mary, alternatively referred to as the “Dormition of Mary” in Eastern Churches, finds its roots in the formative periods of the Church.
Although a location outside Jerusalem was established as Mary’s tomb, the earliest Christians asserted that “no one was there,” according to theologian and EWTN News Vice President and Editorial Director, Dr. Matthew Bunson.
Historical records indicate that at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Roman emperor Marcian sought the remains of Mary, Mother of God. St. Juvenal, then the bishop of Jerusalem, conveyed that Mary had passed away in the presence of the Apostles. Subsequently, when St. Thomas requested the opening of her tomb, it was found empty. From this, the Apostles inferred that her body had been taken up to heaven.
Around the eighth century, during the era of Pope Adrian, the Church commenced the alteration of its terminology, renaming the feast day from the Memorial of Mary to the Assumption of Mary.
Belief in Mary’s assumption was a widely embraced tradition, often contemplated by saints throughout the ages. However, it was not formally defined until the previous century.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII issued an infallible and ex-cathedra statement through the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus, definitively proclaiming the dogma of the Assumption.
Pope Pius XII wrote, “By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
This decree was widely perceived as the formal codification of an enduring Christian doctrine.
Bunson highlighted that throughout the history of the Church, there existed nearly unanimous affirmation of this concept.
“We have an almost universal attestation of this throughout the history of the Church,” Bunson affirmed regarding the Assumption.
He added that the dogma’s notable aspect lies in its use of the passive voice, underscoring that Mary’s ascent into heaven was not of her own accord, as was the case with Christ, but was accomplished through God’s grace.
In the present day, the Assumption’s solemnity is observed as a significant feast day and a public holiday in various nations. In many countries, including the United States, it is considered a holy day of obligation.
Bunson conveyed that on major feast days, it is fitting to underscore the importance of celebrating the Eucharist on that day as an embodiment of the feast’s significance.
“What could be more fitting than on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, to once again center our focus on her Son, on the Eucharist?” he posed.