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Pope Francis: Mary’s Assumption was a 'giant leap for mankind'

Vatican City, Aug 15, 2020 / 06:10 am (CNA).- On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Francis said that Mary’s assumption into Heaven was an infinitely greater achievement than man’s first steps on the moon.

“When man set foot on the moon, he said a phrase that became famous: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ In essence, humanity had reached a historic milestone. But today, in Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, we celebrate an infinitely greater achievement. Our Lady set foot in Heaven,” Pope Francis said Aug. 15.

“This step of the little Virgin of Nazareth was the giant leap forward of mankind,” the pope added.

Speaking from the window of the Vatican’s apostolic palace to the pilgrims spread out throughout St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said that in Mary’s assumption into Heaven, one sees life’s end goal: “not to gain the things here below, which are fleeting, but the patrimony above, which is forever.”

Catholics around the world celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on Aug. 15. The feast commemorates the end of Mary’s earthly life when God assumed her, body and soul, into heaven.

“Our Lady set foot in Heaven: she went there not only in spirit, but with her body as well, with all of herself,” he said. “That one of us dwells in the flesh in Heaven gives us hope: we understand that we are precious, destined to rise again. God does not allow our bodies to vanish into nothing. With God, nothing is lost.”

The life of the Virgin Mary is an example of how “the Lord works wonders with the little ones,” the pope explained.

God works through “those who do not believe themselves great but who give great space to God in life. He enlarges His mercy in those who trust in Him, and raises up the humble. Mary praises God for this,” he said.

Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to visit a Marian shrine on the feast day, recommending people in Rome to visit the Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray before the icon of Salus Populi Romani, Mary Protection of the Roman People.

He said that the Virgin Mary’s witness is a reminder to praise God each day, as the Mother of God did in her Magnificat prayer in which she exclaimed: “My soul glorifies the Lord.”

“We might ask ourselves,” he said. “‘Do we remember to praise God? Do we thank Him for the great things He does for us, for every day that He gives us because He always loves us and forgives us?’”

“How often, instead, we let ourselves be overwhelmed by difficulties and absorbed by fears,” he said. “Our Lady does not, because she puts God as the first greatness of life.”

“If, like Mary, we remember the great things that the Lord does, if at least once a day we ‘magnify’, we glorify Him, then we take a great step forward ... our hearts will expand,  joy will increase,” Pope Francis said.

The pope wished a happy Feast of the Assumption to everyone, especially the sick, essential workers, and all those who are alone.

“Let us ask Our Lady, the Gate of Heaven, for the grace to begin each day by raising our gaze to Heaven, to God, to say to Him: ‘Thank you!’” he said.

What's the Assumption, anyway? A CNA Explainer

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2020 / 03:30 am (CNA).- On Aug. 15, Catholics around the world mark the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, commemorating the end of her earthly life and assumption into Heaven.

But while the feast day is a relatively new one, the history of the holiday – and the mystery behind it – has its roots in the earliest centuries of Christian belief.

The Catholic Church teaches that when Mary ended her earthly life, God assumed her, body and soul into heaven.

The dogma of the Assumption of Mary – also called the “Dormition of Mary” in the Eastern Churches – has its roots in the early centuries of the Church.

While a site outside of Jerusalem was recognized as the tomb of Mary, the earliest Christians maintained that “no one was there,” theologian and EWTN senior contributor Matthew Bunson told CNA.

According to St. John of Damascus, the Roman emperor Marcian requested the body of Mary, Mother of God at the Council of Chalcedon, in 451.

St. Juvenal, who was Bishop of Jerusalem told the emperor “that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven,” the saint recorded.

By the 8th century, around the time of Pope Adrian, the Church began to change its terminology, renaming the feast day of the Memorial of Mary to the Assumption of Mary, Bunson noted.  

The belief in the Assumption of Mary was a widely-held tradition, and a frequent meditation in the writings of saints throughout the centuries. However it was not defined officially until the past century.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII made an infallible, ex-cathedra statement in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus deus officially defining the dogma of the Assumption.

“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, 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,” the pope wrote.

The decree was seen as the formalizing of long-held Christian teaching.

“We have throughout the history of the Church an almost universal attestation of this,” Bunson said of the Assumption.

“We have this thread that runs throughout the whole of the history of the Church in support of the dogma. That’s significant because it supports the tradition of the Church, but it also supports a coming to a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Church of how we rely upon the reflections of some of the greatest minds of our Church.”

What’s also notable about the dogma, he added, is that it “uses the passive tense,” emphasizing that Mary did not ascend into heaven on her own power, as Christ did, but was raised into heaven by God’s grace.

Today, the Feast of the Assumption is marked as a major feast day and a public holiday in many countries. In most countries, including the United States, it is a Holy Day of Obligation.

Bunson explained that on major feast days, it’s fitting to mark the significance of the feast as especially vital by emphasizing the necessity of celebrating the Eucharist that day.

“What is more fitting than on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother to, once again, focus on her Son, on the Eucharist?” he asked.


A version of this article was originally published on CNA Aug. 15, 2017.

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