A Meditation for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 15, 2005

by Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC

On November 1, 1950 Pope Pius XII defined as a dogma of faith that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven in both her body and her soul (Apostolic Constitution – Munificentissimus Deus). Of the four Marian dogmas (Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, Assumption) this dogma, although occurring after the other three, has been believed from the earliest years of the Church.

In the early centuries of the Church there were many writings concerning the passing of Mary into heaven. Some of these writings even noted that before Mary was assumed into heaven the apostles who were still alive were gathered together and witnessed the glorious event. Other writings, often referred to as the Transitus Mariae (Transition of Mary), depicted in graphic detail how the Immaculate Mother of God was assumed into heaven.

Most of the earliest writings on Mary's assumption came from the Eastern Catholic Church. Though they did not refer to this sacred event as the "assumption" they did refer to it as the "dormition" of Mary, which essentially means the "falling asleep" of Mary. In addition, in the Eastern Catholic Church there exists a strong emphasis on both conveying Catholic Tradition through writing and through the use of icons. As a result, various renditions of Mary's dormition (assumption) were artistically rendered through the catechesis of the icon.

What is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the Catholic Church's teaching on the Assumption/Dormition of Mary is that at no point has the Church officially taught that Mary died. This is a very interesting theological point in light of the fact that Mary was Immaculate, without sin, and did not need to suffer the consequences of sin, namely, death. Many theologians have posited that even though Mary did not die from theological reasons due to her sinlessness, nevertheless, they posit, she died in order to be in imitation of her Divine Son. This is a form of devotional reasoning, but is purely speculative. Many persons, including myself, do not believe that Mary died from the mere fact that the Catholic Tradition refers to her as undergoing either an assumption or a dormition, and not a resurrection. Being resurrected implies death whereas undergoing an assumption or dormition does not imply death. Yet, whatever the case may be, the Catholic Church has no official teaching on whether Mary died or not.

Unlike the iconography of the Eastern Catholic Church, Western art most often depicts the Assumption of Mary as an event in motion. For example, one only has to think of the beautiful works of art on the Assumption done by the Spanish artist Murillo. Many of these images show the Mother of God wearing a beautiful dress that seems to have endless folds. She is usually surrounded by angels, clouds, stars, and piercing brilliance. In addition, one of the most characteristic traits of western art on the Assumption is that Mary is unveiled, allowing the viewer to behold Mary's long beautiful hair as it gloriously wraps around her joyful and ecstatic countenance.