“(B)y the authority of our Lord Jesus
Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own
authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely
revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary,
having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and
soul into heavenly glory.”
— Pope Pius XII, Nov. 1, 1950
the moment of death, each of us will be judged by Christ. Our souls
will immediately enter heaven, purgatory or hell. This is known as the
particular judgment. Then we will await the end of time, when our souls
will be reunited with our bodies for all eternity in heaven or in hell.
This is known as the general judgment.
At least, that’s the
general rule. The exception is Mary. When we celebrate the Assumption
this week (Aug. 15) we’re celebrating the fact — long taught by the
Church, and confirmed by dogmatic declaration in 1950 — that Mary, after
her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
teaching on the Assumption is one that all Catholics are bound to hold
with the highest certainty. That is to say, anyone is free to deny
Mary’s Assumption; but in doing so they declare themselves not to be
The reasons for the teaching on the
Assumption are beautifully laid out by Pope Pius XII in his dogmatic
declaration “Munificentissimus Deus.” I encourage everyone to read it.
What I want to add here, however, is that the Feast of the Assumption is
not only a celebration of a truth about Mary, it also holds out a goal
for all of us. When we celebrate Mary’s Assumption, we’re simultaneously
declaring what happened to Mary and what we hope will happen to each of
us at the general judgment. Mary dwells, body and soul, in heaven for
all eternity. We hope to do the same. The Feast of the Assumption both
celebrates the fact and urges us on toward the goal.
to celebrate the Assumption is also to articulate a criterion for
judging our lives. Does every aspect of our life move us toward this
goal? Does every thought and feeling and action and program draw us (and
others) closer to the glorious unification of our bodies and souls in
heaven, under the reign of Jesus Christ, or do we rebel against it?
a high discipline, to be sure — to subject every aspect of our lives to
this test. But the Feast of the Assumption calls us to nothing less.
culture seems to be enamored with zombies — bodies without souls.
Cultural morality often mirrors this, thinking that the actions of our
bodies have no effect on our souls. The Feast of the Assumption calls us
to be counter-cultural: to see the body and soul as intimately united
in this life, and to allow grace to draw us along Mary’s path,
ultimately bringing body and soul together to heaven.