By Sister Renee Yann
Many of us grew up in households where we were surrounded by a strong devotional faith. I am happy to be one of those people. These simple, sacramental practices awakened and engaged my young faith and offered me a visible means to respond to its stirrings. These practices also gave my parents and grandparents the tools to teach me to love and trust God, Mary, the saints and my guardian angel.
I remember with gratitude the many parameters of that deep devotion which accompanied our fundamental practice of a sacramental and liturgical life.
- Our home had a crucifix in every room to remind us of God’s presence.
- Over the main door was a statue of the Infant of Prague and the first Christmas card we had received depicting the Three Kings to bless us on our journeys.
- All year, Dad’s fedora sported a tiny piece of straw tucked into its plaid band. He had plucked it from the parish Christmas crèche, near to St. Joseph, who was his patron.
- During a really violent thunderstorm, we might get a sprinkling from Mom’s holy water flask kept for especially taxing situations.
And, maybe because we live not too far from the east coast, we had one special summer practice. We went into the ocean on the Feast of the Assumption, believing that, through the water, Mary offered us special healing and graces on that day.
I can still picture young boys helping their elderly grandparents into the shallow surf. I remember mothers and fathers marking their children’s brows with a briny Sign of the Cross. There was a humble, human reverence and trust in these actions that blesses me still.
While that August 15th ritual, like similar devotions, might seem superstitious and even hokey to some today, the memory of it remains with me as a testament to the simple faith and deep love of God’s people for our Blessed Mother.
It was just such devotion and faith, expressed over centuries by the faithful, that moved Pope Pius XII to declare the dogma of the Assumption:
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.
(Munificentissimus Deus 44).
Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption on November 1, 1950. The world at that time was still healing from the horrors of World War II. The Pope himself, no doubt, was wounded beyond description by what he had witnessed. One can hear his deep pain as he begins the Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (“The Most Bountiful God”) by saying:
Now, just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue. Nevertheless, we are greatly consoled to see that, while the Catholic faith is being professed publicly and vigorously, piety toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent, and that almost everywhere on earth it is showing indications of a better and holier life.
This belief is complementary to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. These two articles of faith embrace the totality of Mary’s life which was uniquely blessed among all humans. Mary gives us, in our humanity, both a model of and a supportive invitation to holiness.
Sister of Mercy Marie T. Farrell presents a scholarly and insightful essay on the Assumption here. Her work gives us a rich understanding of the theological layers within this teaching. Sister Marie closes her essay with these words:
Mary assumed into heaven and Spiritualised in her whole personhood is a prophetic symbol of hope for us all. In his Resurrection-Ascension, Jesus has shown the way to eternal life. In the mystery of Assumption, the Church sees Mary as the first disciple of many to be graced with a future already opened by Christ, one that defies comprehension for ‘…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him…’
(1 Cor 2: 9)