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As a small contribution to ecumenical understanding, on this sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the doctrine of the Assumption in  Munificentissimus Deus, here is a section from my book Discovering Mary explaining what the pope said in defining it. It is, let me stress, only a “just the facts” description, not an apologetic.

What does the official declaration of the doctrine of the Assumption say?

Issued by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus on November 1, 1950, the definition declares 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.”

How important did Pius XII think this doctrine?

Very. Pius XII followed the definition with a slightly different warning than Pius IX’s warning about the Immaculate Conception:

It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul . . . .

How did Pius XII argue for the doctrine of the Assumption?

Pius XII begins by describing the desire of the faithful for the doctrine to be defined and explaining how it follows from the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: by this “entirely unique privilege” Mary “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.”

The pope then describes the growing desire of the faithful for the dogma and the nearly unanimous agreement of the world’s bishops, declaring that “from the universal agreement of the Church’s ordinary teaching authority we have a certain and firm proof” of Mary’s assumption.

Only after this declaration does Pius XII turn to the arguments. He appeals to “various testimonies, indications and signs of this common belief of the Church [that] are evident from remote times down through the course of the centuries.”

These include the belief of the early Christians; the naming of churches after the Assumption; the liturgical observances of Mary’s death; the homilies of the Fathers and the great theologians; the arguments of medieval theologians that the Assumption “is in wonderful accord with those divine truths given us in Holy Scripture,” like Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Anthony of Padua; and the arguments of later theologians, like Saint Robert Bellarmine and Saint Francis de Sales.

He then offers one argument of his own, from Mary as the New Eve.

Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages.

David Mills is former executive editor of First Things.

More on: Mary, Assumption, Religion

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