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The Blessed Virgin Mary: Sinless by grace, saved by grace, assumed by grace

On the Readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15, 2021.

Top half of "Assumption of the Virgin" (1517) by Rosso Fiorentino []

• Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
• Psa 45:10, 11, 12, 16
• 1 Cor 15:20-27
• Lk 1:39-56

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the doctrine that God the Father chose and prepared a Mother for his only-begotten Son who was “ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect” and who “would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater…”

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared as dogma the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. His Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus noted the connection between the two Marian dogmas, stating that the two “are most closely bound to one another.” It said that God does not usually “grant to the just the full effect of the victory over death until the end of time has come,” but did so with the Assumption, “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.” What does this mean? That just as Mary was kept from original sin by God’s grace, she was also kept from the decay of the grave by that same grace.

Pius XII stated that the image of the woman clothed with the sun, which is part of today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation, has long been understood by the “scholastic Doctors” as signifying “the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God”. The celebration of the Feast of the Assumption can be traced back to at least the seventh century in both the East and the West. Liturgical developments and theological insights flourished from the seventh to ninth centuries.

Among those insights was the recognition, as Pius XII observed, that Mary—sinless and full of grace, the divine life of God—was uniquely preserved from physical corruption and decay. Her body, in the words of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., “would not return to dust but would be resuscitated in an anticipated resurrection.” He makes the careful and important distinction between the Ascension of Christ, which occurred by Jesus’ own power, and the Assumption of Mary, who “was lifted up by God to the degree of glory for which she had been predestined.”

While many Protestants object to the dogma of the Assumption (and the Immaculate Conception) because they see it as somehow introducing a competition of sorts between Jesus and his Mother, the exact opposite is the case. Jesus’ love for Mary, her perfect love for Him, and her faithful obedience to the Father lead to a logical and incredible conclusion: “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection, and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 966).

Mary, the Mother of God, is also Mother of the Church. She gave physical birth to the unique Son of God who is fully divine and fully human; she now gives spiritual birth to the sons and daughters of God who, filled with the divine life of her Son, are made fully human, really alive, truly divinized (see CCC, 963-970; 1988). Pius XII also wrote of the Virgin Mary as being the new Eve who, “although subject to the new Adam, is most intimately associated with him in that struggle against the infernal foe which … would finally result in that most complete victory over the sin and death…”

Mary’s cooperation with the saving work of her Son is perfect and whole, and the Assumption is a stamp of approval on her life of humble faith and quiet discipleship. The old Eve failed the test in the Garden, and so returned to dust. But the new Eve willingly accepted the Word of the Lord, embraced the will of the Father, and reciprocated the love of the Holy Spirit. She perfectly shared in the conception, life, and death of her Son, and so also perfectly shared in his Resurrection.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the August 15, 2010, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

Bottom half of “Assumption of the Virgin” (1517) by Rosso Fiorentino []

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About Carl E. Olson 1180 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for a good theological lesson on the relation of the assumption with the Immaculate Conception. And with that Mary’s perfect cooperation with Christ’s grace. With that truth is freedom, the liberum arbitrium of free choice in pursuit of God’s will. Grace doesn’t remove that freedom, as it was similar to Christ’s human nature and the real suffering that included distress, doubt [My God my God why have you forsaken me?]. Sanctity and perfection for Man consists in these anomalies to perfection. Mary’s state was unique, closely related to her son’s human nature. Did Mary suffer alongside our Lord his passion? It’s widely acknowledged for our Mater Dolorosa. In relation may we compare Mary’s state on Earth to her enthronement in Heaven? Again, her cooperation on earth had merit precisely because it was not that of a heavenly enthroned mother with divinely imparted knowledge, as if she were already Seat of Wisdom who knew all the outcomes. We find evidence in her grief when Jesus remains in Jerusalem without her knowledge, when she seems rebuffed when Jesus responds to her request, Who are my mother and my brothers? And the widely acknowledged pain she suffered when at the Cross, Woman! There is your son. Cana and the first miracle portending the Holy Eucharist. Her refusal to accept an apparent no and command [she held a significant position at this wedding banquet] the waiters to return to Jesus and follow his instructions is truly a mysterious event. A sign of her motherly authority, Christ’s obedience to her, aware from experience he was capable of miracles. Was it prescient knowledge of the Passion, the Precious Blood? It appears more the saga of the most noble suffering mother doing what she knows best during her mist enshrouded journey in participation with Jesus and the salvation of Man.

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