What IT’S NOT and What IT IS
The word “assumption” can have different meanings. One meaning of the word “assumption” is “to guess” or “to presume”. This is NOT the meaning of “assumption” when we refer to Mary’s Assumption: when we talk about Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, we’re not saying that we’re “guessing” or “presuming” that Mary is in heaven. (SPOILER ALERT: We DO believe that Mary is in heaven, body and soul).
Another meaning for the word “assumption” is about going up in location or position. For example, we can talk of someone “assuming a position of greater responsibility” or “assuming great heights or a mountain”. In terms of Mary’s Assumption, this is the meaning of the word “assumption” that we use when referring to Mary’s body and soul going up into heaven.
The Difference between Jesus’ ASCENSION and Mary’s ASSUMPTION
There is a similarity between Jesus’ Ascension and Mary’s Assumption in that, in each case, we are talking about their physical bodies going up into heaven but that’s pretty much where the similarities lie. The BIG Difference is in HOW they went up into heaven and that’s why we use a different word for each in their own case. We use “Ascension” for Jesus to indicate that He (as God) went into heaven of His own power as compared to “Assumption” for Mary to indicate that she was taken up into heaven by God’s power. In a sense, another similarity between Jesus’ Ascension and Mary’s Assumption is that they are both in heaven due to God’s power: Jesus (as God) through His own power and Mary through God’s power – Mary could not have gone to heaven by any power of her own.
Have Christians always believed in the Assumption?
From the earliest centuries, there has been a strong tradition in the Christian Church that Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven. The earliest written reference to the Assumption of Mary dates back to the 400’s and we see other references to the belief in the Assumption in churches named after it, the celebration of an annual feast day and its inclusion among the Mysteries of the Rosary. The Assumption was never greatly disputed or questioned for over a thousand years until the Protestant Reformation when the Protestant Reformers started to question a number of beliefs because they were not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. However, the Catholic Church and other Churches continued on maintaining belief in the Assumption of Mary.
What happened to the belief in the Assumption in 1950 and Why?
In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary as an official teaching of the Church which was a major development in the belief in the Assumption of Mary. Shortly after the end of World War II (which was a few years before 1950), Pope Pius XII looked into the possibility of making this official declaration as, among other things, a message the Church could give to the world amid the aftermath of the terrible destruction that World War II had brought onto the whole world. Part of the meaning of the Assumption of Mary is a message of hope and restoration amid the despair and pessimism in the world: that, especially when life is bleak, there is still much more to life both in the next life as well as in this life.
What else does the Assumption mean for each of us?
Whenever the Church teaches something about Mary in some way says something about us as well. In the case of Mary’s Assumption, it refers to us sharing in the same destiny as Mary: that God’s plan is for the saved to be in heaven not only in soul but in body as well. At the moment, our souls and bodies are separated at death but our souls and bodies will be reunited in a resurrected form in The Resurrection on The Last Day. We profess our belief in this at the end of the Creed when we say that we believe in “the resurrection of the body and life everlasting”. The Assumption of Mary links us with this belief: Mary has experienced it and God wants us to experience the same thing too.
There’s more that could be said on The Assumption of Mary as well as to celebrate about it. Apart from every Sunday, there are only two other days that we need to be at Mass and they are Christmas Day (December 25th) and Assumption Day (August 15th). So, on August 15, we need to be at Mass not just to fulfill an obligation but to be strengthened in the hope that we may share in the same glory Mary now enjoys in heaven, in body as well as in soul.