Month: August 2019

IS MARY’S ASSUMPTION INTO HEAVEN BIBLICAL?

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Revelation 12:1).

Every Catholic firmly believes that Mary is in Heaven right now interceding for the faithful here on planet earth. Vatican II speaks of Mary’s intercession in these profound words:

“This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into the happiness of their true home” (Lumen Gentium, 62, Documents of Vatican II).

The dogma of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, was declared infallible from the Chair of Peter in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, who wrote in Munificentissimus Deus:

“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” (40).

It is fascinating to note, in a Church overflowing with relics dating back even to Jesus’ crucifixion, that T. L. Frazier points out in his essay, “Assumptions About Mary,” : –

“Yet among all the relics there is not be found a single one said said to be a relic of Mary’s actual body.”

Biblically speaking, Jesus entrusted Mary to the care of Saint John (see John 19: 25-27). In the Book of Revelation – the final book in the Bible – John recalls a vision he experienced on the island of Patmos where he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary clothed in glory. He states:

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Revelation 12:1).

Saint Pope John Paul II explains that this woman “clothed with the sun” is preeminently Mary, “the woman of glory”:

“The mutual relationship between the mystery of the Church and Mary appears clearly in the “great portent” described in the Book of Revelation: ‘A great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars’ (12:1). In this sign the Church recognizes an image of her own mystery: present in history, she knows that she transcends history, inasmuch as she constitutes on earth the ‘seed and beginning’ of the Kingdom of God. The Church sees this mystery fulfilled in complete and exemplary fashion in Mary. She is the woman of glory in whom God’s plan could be carried out with supreme perfection” (Redemptoris Mater, 103; see also no. 47 – “And by her ecclesial identification as the “woman clothed with the sun” (Rev. 12:1), it can be said that ‘in the Most Holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle.’”)

And in the encyclical letter, Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, Pope Saint Pius X wrote:

“A great sign,” thus the Apostle St. John describes a vision divinely sent him, appears in the heavens: “A woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head.” Everyone knows that this woman signified the Virgin Mary, the stainless one who brought forth our head…John therefore saw the Most Holy Mother of God already in eternal happiness, yet travailing in a mysterious childbirth. What birth was it? Surely it was the birth of us who, still in exile, are yet to be generated to the perfect charity of God, and to eternal happiness. And the birth pains show the love and desire with which the Virgin from heaven above watches over us, and strives with unwearying prayer to bring about the fulfillment of the number of the elect.

Revelation 12:1 shows Mary with a body, not as an disembodied spirit. She is seen, head to toe, with a Queenly crown on her head and the moon under her feet. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (ICSB) points out that the “woman of Revelation 12” is “Mary, the Mother of the Messiah and the spiritual mother of his disciples….And because the woman is a queen who wears a crown and a mother who bears a royal male child, she is also the Queen Mother of the Davidic kingdom reestablished by Jesus [Mary, the mother of Jesus].” The ICSB further states: “She also represents the faithful of Israel, crying out for the Messiah, as well as the Church, attacked by the devil for witnessing to Jesus.”

It is often argued that belief in Mary’s Assumption came late in the history of the Church, not even being formally defined until 1950. But as T.L. Frazier demonstrates, there was a genre of popular stories “enjoyed by the early Christians” and “devoted to just this single theme of of the Assumption of Mary.” This literature is known as the Transitus Mariae (Passage of Mary). Frazier explains:

What does the Transitus literature teach us? It teaches that the Assumption didn’t just pop up out of nowhere in 1950, which is often the vague assumption of non-Catholics. Indeed, the belief was so widespread in the fifth century that it is hard not to conclude that it must have originated at a much earlier date. Many scholars place the Syriac fragments of the Transitus stories as far back as the third century, and noted Mariologist Michael O’Carroll adds, “The whole story will eventually be placed earlier, probably in the second century–possibly, if research can be linked with archaeological findings on Mary’s tomb in Gethsemani, in the first [century].”(Michael O’Carrol C.S.Sp., Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Wilmington: Glazier, 1982) s.v. “Assumption Apocrypha,” 59.) This conclusion would seem to be supported by the fact that the doctrine flourished without anyone, especially the bishops, protesting against a growing “superstition.”

CONCLUSION: The dogma of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven stands on a strong foundation, Biblically, theologically and historically. For faithful Catholics it has been proved over and over again in approved apparitions such as Lourdes and Fatima, and, of course, Guadalupe, imaged above.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The Truth About Mary, Volume II, by Robert Payesko; “Assumptions About Mary” by T.L. Frazier, This Rock, Volume 3, Number 5 & 6May-June 1992; Ignatius Catholic Study Bible; and an EWTN note on Rev. 12:1 by Fr. John Echert containing the quote from Pope Pius X.

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VERITATIS SPLENDOR IS AN INFALLIBLE TEACHING

“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Timothy 1:13-14)

Long before Pope Francis became Pope competent theologians had already established that the teaching in Veritatis Splendor was an infallible teaching. Referencing Veritatis Splendor, the Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine (Our Sunday Visitor), published in 1997, specifically states that the Church’s teachings therein about mortal sin “are decisive,” having “been taught insistently by the Church” with the “degree of universality and firmness associated with infallible teaching of the ordinary Magisterium.” Pope John Paul II seemed to say as much in Veritatis Splendor itself when he said:

“Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuials but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts” (No. 115).

It is shocking but nevertheless accurate to say that Pope Francis did not agree with Veritatis Splendor, and the launching of his Pontificate has essentially been a carefully strategized attack on Veritatis Splendor. This whole unfortunate matter is brought to our attention again by the Vatican’s recent sacking of certain moral theology professors at the John Paul II Institute (see George Weigel’s important article linked below).

The Vandals sack Rome….again

The point of this short note is merely to state rather forcefully that Pope Francis was under every obligation to follow and promulgate Veritatis Splendor, but in Amoris Laetitia he boldly and even cavalierly adopted the very situation ethics arguments condemned in Veritatis Splendor (see AL 301-303). Naturally concerned about this contradiction in Papal teaching in the all-important area of moral theology, Professor Germain Grisez (a great theologian of Catholic morality) sent a lengthy letter to Pope Francis in which he said:

“When a bishop acts in persona Christi, fulfilling his duty to teach on matters of faith and morals by identifying propositions to which he calls upon the faithful to assent, he presumably means to state truths that belong to one and the same body of truths: primarily, those entrusted by Jesus to his Church and, secondarily, those necessary to preserve the primary truths as inviolable and/or to expound them with fidelity. Since truths like these cannot supersede or annul one another, papal or other episcopal statements made while teaching in persona Christi must be presumed to be consistent with one another when carefully interpreted. Thus it is a misuse of such a teaching statement to claim its support without having first sought so to interpret it.”

It is therefore quite clear that where Amoris Laetitia attempts to circumvent Veritatis Splendor, that is, where it attempts to provide a moral calculus which allows one to transform an intrinsically evil act into something good (and even willed by God) under particular circumstances (again see AL 301-303), such a formulation lacks fidelity to the clear limitations imposed by Veritatis Splendor and is, therefore, ipso facto, invalid. This is the only possible way to resolve a conflict which never should have happened in the first place.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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