This coming Thursday, 15th August, the feast of the Assumption in England is a Holy day of Obligation. It was only in 1950 that Pope Pius XII infallibly proclaimed the truth of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He wrote in his apostolic constitution “the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, when the course of her early life was ended, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.” Even though it was only infallibly proclaimed then it has been the teaching of the Church from earliest times. The term “assumption” is a biblical metaphor expressing the final destiny of the faithful. Mary is the perfect reflection of Christ, the template of all Christians. Her assumption is a sign of hope for the world, a guarantee that God will realise his saving plan for humankind. As Mary is now, we are to be. As we celebrate this feast we remember our ultimate destiny to be with God. Father Fio Mascarenhas S.J. in his book on Mary writes that Mary’s Assumption is not a personal reward. “It is a pledge of the fulfilment of the promises of God for all of humanity – for she is the model of the people of God, and where she is now, all the elect must hope to be one day!”
The Assumption of Mary has been a subject of Christian art for centuries and its feast day was made a public holiday in England by King Alfred the Great in the 9th century. St John of Damascus describes the origin of this belief in these words: “St Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon [AD 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 who arrived late, was found empty; wherefrom the apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”
The Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 15, the same day that the Catholic Church and some Protestant churches celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary. When I think of this feast I recall the beautiful Domitian Church in Jerusalem run by the German Benedictines. A focus point is an image of Mary asleep awaiting the assumption and the church is full of wonderful mosaics depicting the life of Mary.
In celebrating this feast this year can we pray for all those who are contemplating their own death. Some people can no longer face the pain and suffering of their illness. They want to hasten their end. I commend them to our loving Mother with the word we say in the Hail Mary “pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”