August 15th is the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast celebrates a dogma of the faith, something that a person must assent to in order to rightly call themselves a Catholic. Catholics believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed into Heaven, that is to say that she was taken up into Heaven body and soul by God’s grace. Before the Church ever officially declared this a dogma, it was believed by Christians for centuries even though the Bible doesn’t directly tell us that Mary was assumed into heaven. The Greeks called it the Dormition of Mary, or her falling asleep. Pope Pius XII formally defined what was always believed on All Saints Day, November 1st, 1950 in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (44-47) using his authority as the Successor of the Apostle Peter and Vicar of Christ:
[B]y 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.
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.
In order that this, our definition of the bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven may be brought to the attention of the universal Church, we desire that this, our Apostolic Letter, should stand for perpetual remembrance, commanding that written copies of it, or even printed copies, signed by the hand of any public notary and bearing the seal of a person constituted in ecclesiastical dignity, should be accorded by all men the same reception they would give to this present letter, were it tendered or shown.
It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.
A more direct English translation might be: “Mary was assumed into Heaven, believe it man, or no Catholicism for you!” Pope Pius XII not only didn’t do this every day, Popes just don’t go around defining dogma all the time, contrary to what some of our evangelical neighbors might think. It is so rare that generations of people came and went from this world for centuries without Popes doing so, even though we believe by virtue of the position of Peter, which a Pope holds, a Pope would have the authority to do so. Defining dogma is serious business, and it isn’t done lightly. When something is proclaimed a dogma of the faith, that means it is every bit as important to our beliefs as something like the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, or the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus. It is something to which every man or woman who calls themselves a Catholic must give their assent of faith.
Assumption would be the natural end to Mary’s life, why wouldn’t her son take her into Heaven body and soul? A friend who is a recent convert to the faith sent me a link to an article that asked point blank why so many evangelicals now believe in “the Rapture” but find the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be a strange idea. We know of at least two people in the Bible who were assumed into Heaven, Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:13), so why would not Mary, Mother of God?