REFLECT AND TURN TO OUR IMMACULATE MOTHER
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CCC 966 “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death” (Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus). The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:
In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death (Byzantine Liturgy, Troparion, Feast of the Dormition).
What does the Assumption of Mary teach us?
In a homily for the Assumption, Pope St. John Paul II said, “Taken up into Heaven, Mary shows us the way to God, the way to Heaven, the way to life. She shows it to her children baptized in Christ and to all people of good will. She opens this way especially to the little ones and to the poor, those who are dear to divine mercy. The Queen of the world reveals to individuals and to nations the power of the love of God….”
As with the dogma of her Immaculate Conception, the dogma of the Assumption isn’t explicitly stated in Scripture. This was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950 in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus, when he referred to many “holy writers who ... employed statements and various images and analogies of Sacred Scripture to illustrate and to confirm the doctrine of the Assumption....” He explained that he wasn’t manifesting a new doctrine but rather fulfilling his divine commission to “faithfully propose the revelation delivered through the Apostles.” The Church teaches that the dogma of the Assumption was at least implicitly present in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition and therefore is a legitimate sign of the “protection of the Spirit of Truth.”
In the encyclical, Pope Pius XII pointed to several Scripture passages that he believed illustrated the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. Some of them include:
- “Arise, O Lord, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might.” Psalm 132 (131):8
- [The Spouse of Canticles] that “coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense” (Canticles 3:6)
- The Woman clothed with the Sun (Revelation 12)
- I will make the place of my feet glorious. (Isaiah 60:13)
- Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? (Canticles 8:5)
“In her, assumed into Heaven, we are shown the eternal destiny that awaits us beyond the mystery of death: a destiny of total happiness in divine glory. This supernatural vision sustains our daily pilgrimage. Mary teaches about life. By looking at her, we understand better the relative value of earthly greatness and the full sense of our Christian vocation.” – St. John Paul II
At the Crucifixion, Jesus asked St. John to care for Mary. “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27).
She was present with the disciples (Acts 1:14), particularly during the decent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts chapter 2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “After her Son's Ascension, Mary ‘aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.’ In her association with the apostles and several women, ‘we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation’” (CCC 965).
While the proclamation of the Assumption does not include a dogma on this point, the Pope gives an account of the liturgical and theological tradition which teaches that the Virgin Mary, in keeping with the example of Her Son, died, was preserved incorrupt, and then raised by God from the dead.
Pius XXII, Munificentissimus Deus 20 . . . 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. . . . 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-truths that the liturgical books had frequently touched upon concisely and briefly.
The Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, refer to this event as her Dormition or falling asleep in Christ, taking the expression used for death in the New Testament.
Although the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that Mary was assumed into Heaven, the prophetic tradition regarding the Messiah is inseparable from the Woman who gave Him birth (Gen. 3:15). In this text, whose context is the creation and fall of Adam and Eve, the Fathers of the Church saw the New Adam and the New Eve. This completed the thought of St. Paul in Romans chapter 5, that if Adam was a type of Christ, Eve was a type of Mary. Likewise, if the “no” of Eve led to the Fall of Adam, who as head of the human race passed on death to us as the penalty for his sin, the “yes” of Mary engendered the victory over death of our human nature in Christ. It would be inconceivable, therefore, that the Son would leave His Mother to corrupt, but rather that He would raise Her up to share in His victory.
“Mary’s Assumption is an event that concerns us precisely because every human being is destined to die. But death is not the last word. Death – the mystery of the Virgin’s Assumption assures us – is the passage to life, the encounter with Love. It is the passage to the eternal happiness in store for those who toil for truth and justice and do their utmost to follow Christ.” – St. John Paul II
The Assumption of Mary was taught from the early days of the Church and finally defined as a dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950. In his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, he wrote, “We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.”
The Solemnity of the Assumption is one of the Holy Days of Obligation in the liturgical year. In some majority Catholic countries, it is also a public holiday. Some places celebrate with parades and festivals in Mary’s honor.
Although normally a Holy Day of Obligation, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary falls on a Saturday this year. When a holy day of obligation, such as the Mother of God (January 1), the Assumption (August 15), or All Saints (November 1), falls on a Saturday or Monday, the obligation is waived in some countries, including the United States.
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No, Catholics only worship the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It would, in fact, be sinful to worship Mary. Theologians call divine worship latria, or the adoration due only to God.
However, in English the word worship is equivocal. In Britain it is often used of high personages, with the meaning of revering or honoring them due to the dignity of their office. David gave such honor to Saul, for example, because God had placed him as king over Israel. Such “worship” is derivative, sourced in the Father, as St. Paul taught (Eph. 3:14-15), analogous to that which the Decalogue commanded for parents (Ex. 12:20; Dt. 5:16).
Unfortunately, the English word “worship” doesn’t convey the subtlety of the Latin used by the Church, and in the United States is reserved for God. The Church’s theological term is dulia, from the Latin word for service. It is the reverence and respect owed to all the faithful servants of God (Mt. 24:21-23), the angels and saints whom God Himself honors with crowns of glory (Prov. 16:31; 1 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 4:4). We honor them and, in turn, join with them in honoring God, the source of all holiness (Rev. 4:9-11).
Yet, Mary is not just any other saint. She is the Theotokos, the God-bearer, or Mother of God (Luke 1:43; Council of Ephesus, “Against Nestorius”). She is the true Ark of the Covenant who carried the Word Himself, the Bread of Heaven, and the Good Shepherd (Heb. 9:3-5; Rev. 11:19-12:1). The Archangel told her that she was “full of grace” (Luke 1:28), and Elizabeth, moved by the Holy Spirit, called her “blessed among women” (Luke 1:42).
For all these reasons and more, the Church renders to Mary an honor that is greater than is given to all the saints and angels, termed hyperdulia, or the greatest honor. Yet, it is not still that adoration, latria, which we give to God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
"The stupendous assumption of Mary manifests and confirms the unity of the human person and reminds us that we are called to serve and glorify God with our whole being, body and soul. Serving God only with our body would be the action of a slave; serving God only with the soul would be contrary to our human nature." – Pope Francis
As Mother of the Lord (Luke 1:43), Mary is our spiritual mother, as well. This is already prefigured in the account of Genesis 3:15, in which the Seed of Woman will crush the head of the Serpent. The Lord makes this clear by the usage of the title “Woman” in addressing His mother at key points in His mission, at its beginning (John 2:4), and at its end (John 19:26). In these uses Mary stands as antitype to the natural woman, Eve, who failed God, Adam, and us. As the New and faithful Eve, the “Woman” Mary is mother of all the supernaturally living in Christ, as Eve is “mother of all the living” in the natural order (Gen. 3:20, John 19:27, Rev. 12:7).
In 2005 on this feast, Pope Benedict XVI spoke affectionately of this Mother, saying, “While she lived on this earth she could only be close to a few people. Being in God, who is close to us, actually, ‘within’ all of us, Mary shares in this closeness of God. Being in God and with God, she is close to each one of us, knows our hearts, can hear our prayers, can help us with her motherly kindness and has been given to us, as the Lord said, precisely as a ‘mother’ to whom we can turn at every moment.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
CCC 971. "The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship" (Lk 1:48; Paul VI, MC 56). The Church rightly honors "the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration" (Vatican II, “Lumen gentium” 66). The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an "epitome of the whole Gospel," express this devotion to the Virgin Mary (Paul VI, MC 42; Vatican II, “Sacrosanctum concilium” 103).
The Blessed Virgin Mary is an intercessor to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just as Mary asked Her Divine Son to help during the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1-11), she also pleads with Him for our sake. Such a share in Christ’s own intercession is proper to the glory which He gives to all his faithful ones (cf. Rev. 4 and Rev. 8). It is the same, therefore, as in the natural order. If we would ask our friends and family to pray for our intentions, why would we not also ask those closest to God – the saints, angels, and particularly the Blessed Virgin – to pray for us?
What can we learn from Mary?
There are countless lessons that we can learn from the Blessed Mother, beginning with her own surrender to the will of God, “let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This surrender can be summarized by her words directed to the steward at the wedding feast of Cana, “do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
“It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles … it was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and the Handmaid of God.” – St. John Damascene
In Revelation chapter 12, the “woman clothed with the sun” has a crown of twelve stars. Catholic scholars have understood that this referred to both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. These, in turn, represent the people of both the Old and the New Covenant, of whom Mary is their Queen. She is Queen of Israel as Mother of Israel’s King, and Queen of the Church, as Mother of the King who is Savior, and thereby of all the redeemed.
There are 10 universal holy days of obligation of the Church. However, Bishops Conferences may choose to not celebrate some of to transfer them to Sunday, with approval of the Apostolic See (Rome). The U.S. norm, if different, is indicated in parentheses.
- Holy Mary Mother of God, January 1
- Epiphany (U.S.: Sunday after January 1)
- Ascension, Thursday 40 days after Easter (Sunday in some U.S. dioceses)
- Corpus Christi, Thursday after Trinity Sunday (Sunday after Trinity)
- Assumption, August 15
- Saint Joseph. March 19
- Apostles Saints Peter and Paul (not observed)
- All Saints, November 1
- Immaculate Conception, December 8
- The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, December 25
- The Resurrection
- The Ascension
- The Descent of the Holy Spirit
- The Assumption
- The Coronation