Assumption of Mary

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This page concerns the theological concept; for the many works of art on the subject, see Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Image:Assumption.jpg
The Assumption has been a subject of Christian art for centuries. This painting is believed to be by Bartolome Murillo.

According to Catholic doctrine and the traditions of the Catholic Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary (Mary, the mother of Jesus) "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory."<ref>Pope Pius XII: "Munificentissimus Deus - Defining the Dogma of the Assumption", par. 44. Vatican, November 1, 1950 </ref> This means that Mary was transported into Heaven with her body and soul united. The feast day recognizing Mary's passage into Heaven is celebrated as The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics. This doctrine was dogmatically and infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on 1 November 1950 in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus.

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[edit] History

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St. Thomas receiving the Virgin Mary's girdle

Despite its recent definition as dogma, the story of the assumption dates back to the early centuries of the church. The earliest narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary's Repose), a narrative which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation.<ref>Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 2006). A complete translation of this earliest text appears at pp. 290-350</ref> Probably composed by the fourth century, this early Christian apocryphal narrative may be as early as the third century. Also quite early are the very different traditions of the "Six Books" Dormition narratives. The earliest versions of this apocryphon are preserved by several Syriac manuscripts of the fifth and sixth centuries, although the text itself probably belongs to the fourth century.<ref>William Wright, "The Departure of my Lady Mary from this World," The Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record, 6 (1865): 417-48 and 7 (1865): 108-60. See also Agnes Smith Lewis, ed., Apocrypha Syriaca, Studia Sinaitica, XI (London: C. J. Clay and Sons, 1902).</ref> This mystery is celebrated on August 15.

Later apocrypha based on these earlier texts include the De Obitu S. Dominae, attributed to St. John, a work probably from around the turn of the sixth century that is a summary of the "Six Books" narrative. The story also appears in De Transitu Virginis, a late fifth-century work ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis that presents a theologically redacted summary of the traditions in the Liber Requiei Mariae. An Armenian letter attributed to Dionysus the Areopagite also mentions the event, although this is a much later work, written sometime after the sixth century. Other saints also describe it, notably St. Gregory of Tours, St. John Damascene, and St. Modestus of Jerusalem.

In some versions of the story the event is said to have taken place in Ephesus, in House of the Virgin Mary, although this is a much more recent and localized tradition. The earliest traditions all locate the end of Mary's life in Jerusalem (see "Mary's Tomb"). By the seventh century a variation emerged, according to which one of the apostles, often identified as St. Thomas, is not present at the death of Mary, but witnesses her rising from the tomb after her burial. As testament to the event she drops her girdle down to him from heaven.<ref>Ante-Nicene Fathers - The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, vol. 8 page 594</ref> This incident is depicted in many later paintings of the Assumption. The story of the Assumption was generally accepted as fact in medieval Christianity, as a corollary to the theological assertion of Mary's immaculate conception. Theological debate about the assumption continued until 1950 when it was defined as doctrine.

[edit] The significance of the Assumption in Catholic teaching

In Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma he states that "the fact of her death is almost generally accepted by the Fathers and Theologians, and is expressly affirmed in the Liturgy of the Church," to which he adduces a number of helpful citations, and concludes that "for Mary, death, in consequence of her freedom from original sin and from personal sin, was not a consequence of punishment of sin. However, it seems fitting that Mary's body, which was by nature mortal, should be, in conformity with that of her Divine Son, subject to the general law of death".<ref>Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott, Book III, Pt. 3, Ch. 2, §6, ISBN 0-89555-009-1</ref> The point of her bodily death has not been infallibly defined, and many believe that she did not die at all, but was assumed directly into Heaven. However, the same Apostolic Constitution which infallibly proclaims the doctrine of the Assumption, does not dogmatically define whether or not she experienced bodily death.

[edit] The Virgin Mary's heavenly birthday

The Assumption is important to many Catholics as the Virgin Mary's heavenly birthday (the day that Mary was received into Heaven). Her acceptance into the glory of Heaven is seen by them as the symbol of the promise made by Jesus to all enduring Christians that they too will be received into paradise. The Assumption of Mary is symbolised in the Fleur-de-lys Madonna.
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Possibly the most famous rendition of the subject in Western art, Titian's Assunta (1516-18).

The Feast of the Assumption is a Public Holiday in many countries, including Belgium, Cameroon, France, Italy, Paraguay, Malta, Poland and Spain. In Guatemala it is observed in Guatemala City and in the town of Santa Maria Nebaj, both of which claim her as their patron saint. In many places, religious parades, and popular festivals are held to celebrate this day. In Anglicanism and Lutheranism, the feast is kept, but without official use of the word 'Assumption'. Her feast day is Fête Nationale of the Acadians, of whom she is the patron saint. Businesses close on that day in heavily francophone parts of New Brunswick, Canada. The Virgin Assumed in Heaven is also patroness of the Maltese Islands and Her feast, celebrated on the 15 August, apart from being a public holiday in Malta is also celebrated with great solemnity in all the local churches. In New York City, alternate side of the street parking rules are suspended.<ref>New York City Department of Transportation: Alternate Side Parking Calendar, 2006</ref>

[edit] Assumption and Dormition (Eastern Christianity) compared

The Roman Catholic Feast of the Assumption is celebrated on August 15, and the Eastern Orthodox celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos (the falling asleep of the Mother of God) on the same date, preceded by a 14-day fast period. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that Mary died a natural death and was not resurrected before being assumed into Heaven. Many Catholics also believe that she first died before being assumed, but they add that she was miraculously resurrected before being assumed. Others believe she was assumed into Heaven without first passing through death; this aspect of the Assumption is not authoritatively defined in Catholic theology. Eastern-rite Catholics also observe the Feast of the Dormition. Many theologians note by way of comparison that in the Roman Catholic Church, the Assumption is dogmatically defined, while in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Dormition is less dogmatically than liturgically and mystically defined. (Such differences spring from a larger pattern in the two traditions, wherein Roman Catholic teachings are often dogmatically and authoritatively defined--in part because of the more centralized structure of Roman Catholicism--while in Eastern Orthodoxy, many doctrines are less dogmatic and authoritative.)<ref>See Three Sermons on the Dormition of the Virgin by John of Damascus, from the Medieval Sourcebook</ref>

[edit] Assumption in Episcopalianism and Anglicanism

In the Episcopal Church, August 15 is observed as the commemoration "Of the Blessed Virgin Mary", and the recent Anglican-Roman Catholic agreed statement on the Virgin Mary assigns a place for both the Dormition and the Assumption in Anglican devotion.

[edit] References

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[edit] Bibliography

  • Shoemaker, Stephen J. (2002, 2006). Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-921074-8
  • Duggan, Paul E. (1989). The Assumption Dogma: Some Reactions and Ecumenical Implications in the Thought of English-speaking Theologians. Emerson Press, Cleveland, Ohio

[edit] External links

[edit] Famous paintings

[edit] See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

de:Mariä Aufnahme in den Himmel es:Asunción de María eo:Ĉieliro de Maria fr:Assomption hr:Velika Gospa ia:Assumption de Maria it:Assunzione della Vergine Maria ka:მიძინება nl:Maria-Tenhemelopneming ja:聖母の被昇天 pl:Wniebowzięcie Najświętszej Maryi Panny pt:Assunção de Maria ru:Вознесение Богоматери sl:Marijino vnebovzetje sv:Jungfru Marie himmelsfärd th:อัสสัมชัญ

Assumption of Mary

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