Every August 15, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year marks the 66th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution, which declared the Assumption a dogma of our faith. Signed on November 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII, this was only the second instance in the history of the Church when a pope exercised papal infallibly. The first time was when Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception in 1854.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary
The Immaculate Conception is the celebration of a special grace at the beginning of Mary's life on earth. Here we learn that when she was conceived by her mother, St. Anne, Mary was never marred by Original Sin like all other humans. And in this way the Mother of God was free of evil from the first moment of her existence.
The Assumption of Mary
The Assumption is the celebration of a special grace at the end of Mary's life on earth. Here we learn that both her soul and her body were taken to heaven. In other words, she followed very closely in the path of her son, Jesus. His body never turned to dust because this would imply that he had not conquered death completely. In fact he did conquer sin and death, not only by rising from the dead but also by his bodily Ascension into Heaven. The same is true for his mother. Whether or not she actually died is never mentioned in the Constitution. In fact, the Holy Father carefully avoids this discussion by saying: having completed the course of her earthly life (Mary) was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
Some might wonder why we should celebrate these truths. There are two principal motives that give us cause for rejoicing about these dogmas. First, they exemplify the mercy of God and second, they highlight female strength.
One of the key ingredients in the virtue of mercy is generosity. While justice is served by the verdict of guilty, restitution is required to repair the damages which came in the wake of the wrongful behavior. Though certainly not required, the victims can forgive the debt owed to them and grant the culprit a free pass, like not having to repay the damages at all. Such generosity is the epitome of mercy and is certainly rare.
God's mercy toward Mary at the beginning and end of her life is displayed in his generous gifts of her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption. In a life otherwise filled with hardship, anguish and sorrow, these two graces bind together a mother and her son, two Sacred Hearts, in their willingness to say yes and in their courage to persevere without counting the cost.
There is another annual celebration during the month of August, albeit perhaps not as well known as the Assumption. National Women's Day commemorates the 20,000 women who marched in protest against the “pass laws” of South Africa on Aug. 9, 1956. These demeaning, discriminatory laws required black women to carry special passports which were designed to maintain segregation, control urbanization and manage migrant labor during the era of apartheid. The silence of all these women standing in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria was broken only by their vocalization of their slogan: you strike a woman, you strike a rock. Two thousand years earlier, the devil had met with unyielding granite in the phenomenal strength of Mary who put enmity between our Savior and the serpent.
For Holy Homework: Name one virtue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that stands out as a favorite. During this month, let's meditate on this particular virtue and ask ourselves: is this is a virtue we should imitate more often? How can we do this?
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