Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Assumption vs Dormition

Dormition Icon from the 1100s
As we approach the feast of the Assumption of Mary tomorrow, we ponder the ages-long controversy whether Mary died before being assumed into heaven. Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, and in his declaration, he said: “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.” If you read the encyclical Munificentissimus Deus, which was issued on the same occasion, it becomes manifest that the Holy Father taught that our Immaculate Lady died an earthly death before being assumed bodily into Heaven.  Citing Saint Modestus, the Holy Father writes: “As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, Mary has been endowed with life by him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him.”
The citations employed by Pope Pius XII reveal that he believed and intended to show that the Immaculate Virgin Mary did in fact undergo death prior to her glorious Assumption.
This death-resurrection-assumption is known as the Dormition (Sleeping) of Mary. A popular Dormition Icon from the 1100s features Christ holding the tiny soul of Mary depicted as a baby wrapped in white clothes. The Mother of God’s body lies lifeless on a bier or an open casket. The orthodox image shows that Mary did die. The Holy Apostles surround her demonstrating that the Dormition and Assumption had apostolic witness and are part of the deposit of Faith. The Eastern Churches celebrate a mini-Lent before the Assumption from August 1-14. There is a tradition is that she died at 3pm on August 13 and rose again and was assumed into Heaven on August 15. Her death on August 13 is still commemorated in Jerusalem to this day. Hence August 13-15 is a Marian Triduum or “three-day” death and resurrection cycle.

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