Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Venerable Pius XII begins Munificentissimus Deus quite unexpectedly, first referring to something troubling him — something rapidly multiplying in our day. Remember, this was 1950. He said his “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.”
Then he shares what comforts him: “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.” At the same time, the Blessed Virgin Mary is always fulfilling in a most loving way her motherly duties on behalf of all redeemed by Christ’s blood.
It’s a lesson for today’s disordered society. Our Blessed Mother is a safe pillar of stability for us if we reach out and anchor ourselves to her. Why? Like the dogma says: God “from all eternity regards Mary with a most favorable and unique affection…” This is, of course, leads to one reason for her Assumption.
Pius XII continues, “That privilege has shone forth in new radiance” since Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. “These two privileges are most closely bound to one another.”
How does the Immaculate Conception relate to the Assumption? Original sin brought the corruption of the grave. But “God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule,” teaches Pius XII. Why? “She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she 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.”
Dogma Embedded in Christianity
Pius XII begins by reasoning “the dogma of the Virgin Mary's Assumption into heaven is contained in the deposit of Christian faith entrusted to the Church.” And this privilege of the Assumption is “a truth revealed by God and contained in that divine deposit which Christ has delivered to his Spouse to be guarded faithfully and to be taught infallibly.”
In case that’s not clear enough, Pius XII adds, “Certainly this teaching authority of the Church, not by any merely human effort but under the protection of the Spirit of Truth, and therefore absolutely without error, carries out the commission entrusted to it, that of preserving the revealed truths pure and entire throughout every age, in such a way that it presents them undefiled, adding nothing to them and taking nothing away from them. For, as the Vatican Council teaches, ‘the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter in such a way that, by his revelation, they might manifest new doctrine, but so that, by his assistance, they might guard as sacred and might faithfully propose the revelation delivered through the apostles, or the deposit of faith.’”
He continues the groundwork for declaring her Assumption. “Thus, from the universal agreement of the Church's ordinary teaching authority we have a certain and firm proof, demonstrating that the Blessed Virgin Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven…is a truth that has been revealed by God and consequently something that must be firmly and faithfully believed by all children of the Church.”
Starting the Proofs
Pius XII next begins presenting the many ways the Church has always believed in the Assumption. There have been “innumerable temples” dedicated “to the Virgin Mary assumed into heaven” — that clearly attests belief in her Assumption. Cities, dioceses, and regions “have been placed under the special patronage and guardianship of the Virgin Mother of God assumed into heaven.”
Here’s the big one. Pius XII emphasizes that in “the Rosary of Mary, the recitation of which this Apostolic See so urgently recommends, there is one mystery proposed for pious meditation which, as all know, deals with the Blessed Virgin's Assumption into heaven.” The fourth Glorious Mystery.
More proofs follow. Like the splendid fact that “since ancient times, there have been both in the East and in the West solemn liturgical offices commemorating this privilege.” Liturgical books also testify that “what happened to her sacred body was, by the decree of divine Providence, in keeping with the dignity of the Mother of the Word Incarnate, and with the other privileges she had been accorded.”
Again, the Church raised the Feast of the Assumption to a solemn celebration.
These are the first group of “witnesses.”
Pius XII calls on Sacred Scripture and saints like Fathers and Doctors of the Church who in one voice always upheld the Assumption of Mary.
St. John Damascene is one. Pius XII calls him “an outstanding herald of this traditional truth” and relates how this saint “spoke out with powerful eloquence” about the Assumption. This saint said: “It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in the act of giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father. It was fitting that God's Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.”
Moving to Scripture before returning to saints, Pius XII reminds that “this privilege of the Virgin Mary's Assumption is in wonderful accord with those divine truths given us in Holy Scripture.”
He cites Scriptural verses and passages universally believed to be connected with the Assumption. One Psalm says, “Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified.” Another Psalm (45:10-14ff) includes these words: All glorious is the king’s daughter as she enters, her raiment threaded with gold; In embroidered apparel she is led to the king.”
The “scholastic Doctors recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God” as something indicated in Old Testament figures and in the “woman clothed with the sun” (Revelation 12:1) that John contemplated.
Major saints confirming the Assumption includes Anthony of Padua, Albert the Great. the Seraphic Doctor Bonaventure, Alphonsus Ligouri. Bernardine of Siena taught, “The likeness between God's Mother and her divine Son… forbids us to think of the heavenly Queen as being separated from the heavenly King” and assuredly Mary "should be only where Christ is.”
Pius XII quotes Robert Bellarmine: “And who, I ask, could believe that the ark of holiness, the dwelling place of the Word of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin? My soul is filled with horror at the thought that this virginal flesh which had begotten God, had brought him into the world, had nourished and carried him, could have been turned into ashes or given over to be food for worms.”
Francis de Sales noted Jesus perfectly observed the commandment of honoring your mother and father. He concluded, “What son would not bring his mother back to life and would not bring her into paradise after her death if he could?”
Pius XII also points out the warning of Peter Canisius: "This teaching [the Assumption] has already been accepted for some centuries, it has been held as certain in the minds of the pious people, and it has been taught to the entire Church in such a way that those who deny that Mary's body has been assumed into heaven are not to be listened to patiently but are everywhere to be denounced as over-contentious or rash men, and as imbued with a spirit that is heretical rather than Catholic.”
There is the fact that the Church has never searched for bodily relics of Our Lady.
Church Fathers and theologians every proof is founded on the Sacred Writings. Pius XII emphasizes, “Consequently it seems impossible to think of her, the one who conceived Christ, brought him forth, nursed him with her milk, held him in her arms, and clasped him to her breast, as being apart from him in body, even though not in soul, after this earthly life. Since our Redeemer is the Son of Mary, he could not do otherwise, as the perfect observer of God's law, than to honor, not only his eternal Father, but also his most beloved Mother. And, since it was within his power to grant her this great honor, to preserve her from the corruption of the tomb, we must believe that he really acted in this way.”
Straight Path to Assumption
Everything lends to only one conclusion.
Pius XII proclaims, “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.”
The Pontiff didn’t stop.
He confidently assured the solemn proclamation and definition of the Assumption “will contribute in no small way to the advantage of human society, since it redounds to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, to which the Blessed Mother of God is bound by such singular bonds.”
Furthermore, the hope is “that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ's Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart…”
Meditating on this most glorious mystery should help everyone clearly see “to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined.” The Holy Father hoped “that belief in Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.”
Then Pius XII, often forgotten as one of the greatest Marian Holy Fathers ever — which he thoroughly was — put the unbreakable seal on the dogma. It’s well worth looking at his official words and remind, “Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”
He stressed if anyone ever attempted to change, oppose or counter this declaration and definition they attempted to, “let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.”
The solemn proclamation went: “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.” Amen!