“Truly God is vulnerable in the world, because he is love and love is vulnerable. Yet he holds the future in his hands: It is love, not hatred, that triumphs; it is peace that is victorious in the end. This is the great consolation contained in the dogma of Mary’s assumption body and soul into heavenly glory.” – Pope Benedict XVI
For some people, death is something they dread – a terrifying event they’d rather not think about. For them, death means the end of everything they have worked for and the loss of everyone they hold most dear. But Catholics have a different perspective. While it’s true that death marks the end of our physical lives here on earth, in the light of faith we see death as a new beginning – the fulfillment of everything we’ve been striving for. It is the moment when we hope to see Jesus, when we will finally be united with Him in heaven. And far from being cut off from those we love, the communion of saints means that it is possible for us to be even more closely united with them through our intercessory prayers.1
What will heaven be like? The Catechism tells us that it will be a perfect life – a communion of life and love with the Most Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed. “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.”2 It is the prize worth waiting for! Catholics celebrate the solemnities, memorials, and feast days of the saints precisely because we believe that they are now in heaven. Their lives have become examples for us to imitate, and their deaths have become a reason for joy and thanksgiving.
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary commemorates the end of Mary’s life on earth and her assumption into heaven.3 Now reunited with her Son, she is a powerful advocate for those who seek her loving intercession and protection – a mother who is always there, always ready to help. What is unique about her passing is that Mary was assumed both body and soul into heaven. Our bodies, on the other hand, will not be resurrected until after we stand before Jesus on the Day of Judgment at the end of time. In his decree defining the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, Pope Pius XII wrote, “According to the general rule, God does not will to grant to the just the full effect of the victory over death until the end of time has come. And so it is that the bodies of even the just are corrupted after death, and only on the last day will they be joined, each to its own glorious soul.”4
God made an exception to this general rule in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary because, unlike us, she was without sin. Preserved from the stain of original sin at the moment of her conception, she remained completely free of sin throughout her life. As Pope Pius XII explained, “She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body.”5
Although we know that Mary is now in heaven, there are differing traditions about how her life came to an end. Was she in Jerusalem at that time, or in Ephesus with the apostle John? Did she die a natural death, or did she simply “fall asleep” before being taken up into heaven? Did her Assumption happen at the moment of her death, or did it happen later? It is the tradition of many eastern churches that Mary – like Jesus – had a period of separation between body and soul before being assumed into heaven. But what does the western Church believe?
While the dogma of the Assumption of Mary is silent on the question of how Mary’s life ended, tradition suggests that she did experience death. Pope John Paul II wrote, “It is true that in Revelation death is presented as a punishment for sin. However, the fact that the Church proclaims Mary free from original sin by a unique divine privilege does not lead to the conclusion that she also received physical immortality. The Mother is not superior to the Son who underwent death, giving it a new meaning and changing it into a means of salvation. Involved in Christ’s redemptive work and associated in his saving sacrifice, Mary was able to share in his suffering and death for the sake of humanity’s Redemption. What Severus of Antioch says about Christ also applies to her: “Without a preliminary death, how could the Resurrection have taken place? To share in Christ’s Resurrection, Mary had first to share in his death.”6
Although many different Marian feast days are celebrated in the Catholic liturgical calendar, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is considered the most important because it commemorates her passing into eternal life. And because Mary was human like us, it has special significance. It gives us renewed hope that we, too, can one day hope to enter into eternal rest with our Lord.
– Sharon van der Sloot
A beautiful way to prepare our hearts for this feast is by praying the Assumption Novena (see below), beginning on August 6th.
1 Pope Paul VI wrote, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers.” – CCC, 962.
2 CCC, 1024.
3 The Church didn’t define the dogma of the Assumption of Mary until November 1, 1950. However, this doesn’t mean that this belief was something ‘new’. The belief in Mary’s Assumption goes back to apostolic times, and the universal celebration of this feast dates back to the 6th century. For more information on the history of this feast day, see “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” EWTN [Global Catholic Network]; available from http://www.ewtn.com/saintsholy/saints/A/assumptionoftheblessedvirginmary.asp; Internet; accessed 27 July 2014.
4 Pope Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (November 1, 1950), 4; available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-xii_apc_19501101_munificentissimus-deus_en.html; Internet; accessed 24 July 2014.
5 Ibid., 5.
6 Pope John Paul II, “Mary and the human drama of death,” General Audience June 25, 1997, 3; available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1997/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_25061997_en.html; Internet; accessed 27 July 2014.
Prayed from August 6th to 14th
Lord Jesus Christ, You have destroyed the power of death and given the hope of eternal life in body and soul. You granted your Mother a special place in your glory, and did not allow decay to touch her body. As we rejoice in the Assumption of Mary, give to us a renewed confidence in the victory of life over death. You live and reign forever and ever. Amen.
Immaculate Virgin, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, we believe in your triumphant assumption into heaven where the angels and saints acclaim you as Queen of Heaven and earth. We join them in praising you and bless the Lord who raised you above all creatures. With them we honour you. We are confident that you watch over our daily lives, and we ask that you intercede for us now. (mention your request) We are comforted by our faith in the coming Resurrection and we look to you for prayers and comfort. After this earthly life, show us Jesus, the blest fruit of your womb, O kind, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. O Queen Assumed into Heaven, pray for us. Amen.
Mary, Assumed into Heaven, we venerate you as the Queen of Heaven and earth. As you tasted the bitterness of pain and sorrow with your Son on earth, you now enjoy eternal bliss with Him in heaven. Loving Queen, intercede for us in our needs. (mention your request) We praise Jesus for giving us such a loving mother. O Queen Assumed into Heaven, pray for us. Amen.
O Mother, Assumed into Heaven, because you shared in all the mysteries of our Redemption here below, Jesus has crowned you with glory. With your most glorious and powerful intercession, help us O loving Mother, and present to Jesus our request. (mention your request) O Queen assumed into Heaven, pray for us. Amen.
O Dearest Mother Mary, Assumed into Heaven, God placed you at His right hand that you may intercede for his little ones as the Mother of God. In the midst of all the Saints you stand as their Queen and ours — dearer to the Heart of God than any creation. You pray for your children and give to us every grace won by our loving Saviour on the Cross. Please intercede for us in our needs and ask Jesus to grant our request if it be for the good of our souls. (mention your request) O Queen Assumed into Heaven, pray for us. Amen.
O merciful and loving Mother, may your glorious beauty fill our hearts with a distaste for earthly things and an ardent longing for the joys of heaven. May your merciful eyes glance down upon our struggles and our weakness in this vale of tears. Hear then, loving Mother, our request and plead to Jesus for us. (mention your request) Crown us with the pure robe of innocence and grace here, and with immortality and glory in heaven. O Queen Assumed into Heaven, pray for us. Amen.
Mary, our dear Mother and mighty Queen, take and receive our poor hearts with all their freedom and desires, all the love and all the virtues and graces with which they may be adorned. All we are and all we might be, all we have and hold in the order of nature as well as of grace, we have received from God through your loving intercession. Help us, dear Mother, to surrender to God all that we have, including our petitions. (mention your request) Our Lady and Queen, into your gentle hands, we entrust all, that it may be returned to its noble origin. O Queen Assumed into Heaven, pray for us. Amen.
Mary, Queen of every heart, accept all that we are and bind us to Jesus with the bonds of love, that we may be yours forever and may be able to say in all truth: “I belong to Jesus through Mary”. Our Mother, Assumed into Heaven and Queen of the Universe, ever-Virgin Mother of God, obtain for us what we ask for if it be for the glory of God and the good of our souls. (mention your request) Our Mother, Assumed into Heaven, we love you. Give us a greater love for Jesus and for you. O Queen Assumed into Heaven, pray for us. Amen.
Mary, Queen Assumed into Heaven, we rejoice that you are the Queen of Heaven and Earth. You have given your holy fiat to God and became the Mother of our Saviour. Obtain peace and salvation for us through your prayers, for you have given birth to Christ our Lord, the Saviour of all mankind. Intercede for us and bring our petitions before the Throne of God. (mention your request) Through your prayers, may our souls be filled with an intense desire to be like you, a humble vessel of the Holy Spirit and a servant of the Almighty God. Pray for us, O Queen Assumed into Heaven, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
O Blessed Mother Assumed into Heaven, after years of heroic martyrdom on earth, we rejoice that you have at last been taken to the throne prepared for you in heaven by the Holy Trinity. Lift our hearts with you in the glory of your Assumption above the dreadful touch of sin and impurity. Teach us how small earth becomes when viewed from heaven. Make us realize that death is the triumphant gate through which we shall pass to your Son and that someday our bodies shall rejoin our souls in the unending bliss of heaven. From this earth, over which we tread as pilgrims, we look to you for help. In honour of your assumption into heaven, we ask for this favour. (mention your request) When our hour of death has come, lead us safely to the presence of Jesus to enjoy the vision of God for all eternity together with you. Pray for us, O Queen Assumed into Heaven, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
7 Courtesy of Pray More Novenas, available from http://www.praymorenovenas.com/assumption-novena/#ixzz399psaFLB; Internet; accessed 1 August 2014.