The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
An explaination the history of this important feast day of Our Lady.
The Assumption is the oldest feast day of Our Blessed Mother, when Jerusalem was restored as a sacred city, at the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Since then it had been a pagan city for two centuries, when Emperor Hadrian levelled it around the year 135 and rebuilt it in honour of the pagan god Jupiter.
For 200 years, every memory of Jesus was obliterated from the city, and the sites made holy by His life, Death and Resurrection became pagan temples.
After the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 336, the sacred sites began to be restored and memories of the life of Our Lord began to be celebrated by the people of Jerusalem.
On the hillside of Mount Zion is the “Place of Dormition,” the spot of Mary’s “falling asleep,” where she had died, where the early Christian community had lived.
At this time, the “Memory of Mary” was being celebrated, but only in Palestine. It was then extended by the emperor to all the churches of the East. In the seventh century, it began to be celebrated in Rome under the title of the “Falling asleep” of the Mother of God.
Soon the name was changed to the “Assumption of Mary,” since there was more to the feast than just her dying. It also proclaimed that she had been taken up, body and soul, into heaven.
That belief was ancient, dating back to the apostles themselves. What was clear from the beginning was that there were no relics of Mary to be venerated, and that an empty tomb stood on the edge of Jerusalem near the site of her death. That location soon became a place of pilgrimage.
At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when bishops from throughout the Mediterranean gathered in Constantinople, the Emperor asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capital. The patriarch explained to the emperor that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, and that “Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later, was found empty, so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven.”
In the eighth century, St. John Damascene was known for giving sermons at the holy places in Jerusalem. At the Tomb of Mary, he expressed the belief of the Church on the meaning of the feast: He said “Although the body was fittingly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay. She was transferred to her heavenly home.”
The Assumption completes God’s work in her since it was not fitting that the flesh that had given life to God himself should ever undergo corruption. The Assumption is God’s crowning of His work as Mary ends her earthly life and enters into eternity. The feast turns our eyes in that direction, where we will follow when our earthly life is over.
The feast day of the Church are not just the commemoration of historical events; they do not look only to the past. They look to the present and to the future and give us an insight into our own relationship with God.
The Assumption looks to eternity and gives us hope that we, too, will follow Our Lady when our life has ended.
In 1950 Pope Pius XII proclaimed the ‘Assumption of Mary’ to be a dogma of the Catholic Church in these words: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.”
And with that, this ancient belief became Catholic doctrine and the ‘Assumption’ was declared a truth revealed by God.