It is cliché, but technology can be used for good and bad. The Internet is no different. You don’t have to search hard to find the bad that is accessible through a web browser on your computer or phone. On the flipside, the good is the Internet puts information at our fingertips what we might never have accessed personally. An example is the wealth of Vatican documents, apostolic letters, and such available online. Aside from moving to Rome, it would be next to impossible to access the Vatican library any time you wanted to read one of these letters. One such example is the apostolic letter I read for this weekend was Munificentissimus Deus, Defining the Dogma of the Assumption.
Published in November 1950, the letter from Pope Pius XII more or less concludes with “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.”
Yes, that date is correct. The teaching of the Assumption, the solemnity we celebrate this weekend, was not made official until 1950. You may ask why did it take so long for the Church to make such a definitive statement about the Assumption? The simple answer is – that is the way the Church does these things… slowly… and led by the Holy Spirit. Only when it becomes necessary, does the Church make a definitive statement such as this.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the Assumption wasn’t celebrated until 1950. Quite the contrary. The letter itself, in attributing the proofs of the revealed truth, references the documented practice of celebrating the Assumption going back to Papacy of St. Sergius I (687 to 701). The letter also mentions that Pope Adrian I (772 to 795) sent Emperor Charlemagne the sacramentary (similar to the Roman Missal) in which it stated, “Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten your Son our Lord incarnate from herself.”
While the Church puts great weight into such traditions practiced by those in the early Church, it also looks at the theology by the early Fathers. One such reference is the writing of St. Germanus of Constantinople, who lived from 634 to 733 (or 740). He wrote, “You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.”
Maybe it is because the first anniversary of my mother’s death is quickly approaching that I think the following summation of the theology expresses it best. “They (Fathers and Doctors of the Church) insist upon the fact that, out of filial love for his mother, Jesus Christ has willed that she be assumed into heaven.” There you have it; a son’s glorious gift to his mother.
I would encourage you to check out the entire letter as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption.
In the peace of Christ,