It is a very unusual thing not to be celebrating the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time this weekend. Instead, this Sunday the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is unusual because Sundays have a privileged place in Catholic liturgy. Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, the day on which Christ rose from the dead. Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have gathered each Sunday to commemorate the Resurrection with the celebration of the Eucharist. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council describes Sunday as the “original feast day,” and teaches us that because it is “the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year,” no other celebrations should take precedence over Sunday, “unless they be truly of greatest importance.” This is why the feasts of saints that fall on a Sunday in a particular year are almost always trumped by the celebration of the Lord’s Day – especially during the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent. Only the most important solemn feasts of the year trump Sunday, including this weekend’s feast, the Solemnity of the Assumption.
The Assumption is one of just four Marian Dogmas. Over the centuries, the Church occasionally exercises its infallible teaching authority to declare certain things to be divinely-revealed truths, as well as things that have a necessary connection with these divinely-revealed truths. We call these kinds of teaching “dogma.” The four Marian Dogmas are 1) that Mary, as the mother of Jesus, is the Mother of God (Council of Ephesus, 431 AD.); 2) that Mary’s virginity is perpetual (Council of Lateran, 649 AD.); 3) that Mary was preserved from the stain of Original Sin from the moment of her conception (Pope Pius IX, 1854 AD.); 4) that, at the end of her life on earth, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven (Pope Pius X, 1950). As dogma, the Assumption is something that every Catholic must accept as true, adhering to this teaching as a matter of faith, and allowing it to shape our understanding of God’s relationship to His creation. Although the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has no direct basis in scripture, it is contained implicitly in Divine Revelation, being the logical conclusion of Our Lady’s unique mission and relationship with Christ. It was defined definitively as dogma only in 1950, but the Assumption was already a widespread belief of Catholics by the 5th century.
The theologian Matthew Levering writes that the Assumption of Mary helps us to see the way in which God calls His followers to participate in His work of salvation. “Reversing Eve’s disobedience, Mary shares in the victory of [Jesus, who is] the new Adam: [in Mary,] Christ has made for Himself a real partner in the work of salvation, a partner who already shares in His exaltation by the power of His [sacrifice] and by His superabundant grace.” This reminds us that all of the Church’s teachings about the Blessed Virgin Mother are grounded in the teachings of the Church about Christ. Derived from what we believe to be true about Our Lord, the Marian Dogmas always point to the identity of Christ Himself. This makes sense, of course, since the Blessed Mother introduced the world to Our Savior, and spends all of eternity bringing us closer to Him. Through our meditation on the mystery of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary this Sunday, may we come to a deeper love for her Son, Our Savior.