By Fr. Anthony Aneke
On 1 November 1950, invoking his dogmatic authority, Pope Pius XII defined the dogma:
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.
Munificentissimus Deus (The most bountiful God) refers to the name of an apostolic constitution written by Pope Pius XII. It defines ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1854,Pope Pius IX made an infallible statement with Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was a basis for this dogma. The decree was promulgated on 1 November 1950. This encyclical was written not long after the desolation of the Second World War (World War II). It conveys the hope that meditation on Mary’s assumption will lead the faithful to a greater awareness of our common dignity as the human family.
In the dogmatic statement, the phrase “having completed the course of her earthly life” was carefully written to leave open the question of whether or not Mary died before her Assumption, or whether, like the Assumption of the Prophet Elijah, Mary was assumed before death; both possibilities are allowed in the formulation.
The entire decree (and the title itself) is also worded to suggest that Mary’s Assumption was not in any sense a logical necessity, but rather a divine gift to Mary as Mother of God. Munificentissimus Deus teaches that Mary lived and completed her life as a shining example to the human race. The gift of her assumption is offered to all the faithful and signifies what to hope for at the end of time. Her assumption signifies God’s intention to all the faithful.
As we prepare for the Solemnity of Assumption of Mary few weeks to come, I would like to share the following material containing an extract from the formal definition of the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption, issued by Pope Piux XII on 1 November 1950.
- God, who from all eternity regards Mary with a most favourable and unique affection, has ‘when the fullness of time came’ (Gal. 4:4) put the plan of his providence into effect in such a way that all the privileges and prerogatives he had granted to her in his sovereign generosity were to shine forth in her in a kind of perfect harmony. And, though the Church has always recognized his supreme generosity and the perfect harmony of graces and has daily studied them more and more throughout the course of the centuries, still it is in our own age that the privilege of the bodily Assumption into heaven of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God has certainly shone forth more clearly.
- That privilege has shone forth in new radiance since our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the loving Mother of God’s Immaculate Conception. These two privileges are closely bound to one another. Christ overcame sin and death by His own death, and one who through Baptism has been born again in a supernatural way has conquered sin and death through the same Christ. Yet according to the general rule, God does not will to grant the just the full effect of the victory over death until the end of time has come. And so it is that the bodies of even the just are corrupted afterdeath, and only on the last day will they be joined, each to its own glorious soul.
- Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this rule. 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 redemption of her body.
- the Liturgical books which deal with the feast either of the dormition or of the Assumption of the blessed Virgin there are expressions that agree in testifying that, when the Virgin Mother of God passed from this earthly exile in heaven, 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. Thus to site an illustrious example, this is set forth in that sacramentary which Adrian I, our predecessor of immortal memory, sent to the emperor Charlemagne. These word are found in this volume: ‘Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten your Son our Lord incarnate from herself.’ (Sacramentarium Gregorianum)
- What is here indicated is that sobriety characteristics of the Roman liturgy is presented more clearly and completely in other ancient liturgical books. To take one as an example, the Gallican sacramentary designates this privilege of Mary’s as ‘an ineffable mystery of the more worthy of praise as the Virgin’s Assumption is something unique among men’. And in the Byzantine liturgy, not only is the Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption connected time and again with the dignity of the Mother of God, but also with the other privileges and in particular with the virginal motherhood granted her by a singular decree of God’s providence. ‘God, the king of the universe, has granted you the favour that surpass nature. As he kept you a virgin in childbirth, thus he has kept your body incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by his divine act of transferring it from the tomb.’ (MenaeiTotius Ann)
- In the fifteenth century, St. Bernardine of Siena collected and diligently evaluated all that the medieval theologian had said and taught on this question. He was not content with setting down the principal consideration which these writers of an earlier day had already expressed, but he added others of his own. The likeness between God’s mother and her divine Son, in the way of the nobility and dignity of body and of soul – a likeness that forbids us to think of the heavenly Queen as being separated from the heavenly King – makes it entirely imperative that Mary ‘should be only where Christ is’. (In Assumption B. MariaeVirginis, Semo 11) Moreover, it is reasonable and fitting that not only the soul and the body of a man, but also the soul and body of a woman should have obtained heavenly glory. Finally, since the Church has never looked for the bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the people, we have a proof in the order of sensible experience. (Ibid)
- We must remember especially that, since the second century, the Virgin Mary has been designated by the Holy Fathers as the new Eve, who although subject to the new Adam, is most intimately associate with him in that struggle against the infernal foe which, as foretold in the protoevengelium (Gen 3:15) ,would finally result in that most complete victory over the sin and death which are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles(Rom. 5-6, 1 Cor. 15, 21-6, 54-7). Consequently, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and the final sign of this victory, so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son should be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body, for the same Apostle says: ‘When this mortal thing hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the sating that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.’ (1 Cor 15:54)
- 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 (Ineffabilis Deus), 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. (1 Tim. 1:17)
- For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honour of her Son, the immortal King of Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounced, declared, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having complete the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.