Discover the history behind the definition of the dogma of the Assumption. Read also about the opposition to its proclamation for fear of alienating Protestants and the subsequent ecumenical appeasement of "down-grading" the Blessed Virgin Mary during Vatican II.
The Assumption: 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma
This article by Fr. Aldo Rossi was originally published in the May 2001 issue of The Angelus magazine. We have included below a photo gallery depicting the dogma's proclamation in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, as well as a video link to a contemporary news report.
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 honor 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 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." (Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus (§44), Nov. 1, 1950)
On November 1st in the Jubilee Year 1950, the Mother of God was given further honor by the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII. Nearly one hundred years earlier (1854), Pope Pius IX had proclaimed her to be conceived immaculate.
The dogma of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Mary is an honor resembling a great star illuminating the "sea" of the 20th century, just as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was for the 19th. The dogmatic definition of the Assumption adds another crown to the Holy Virgin and constitutes another motive which strengthens devotion towards her. The dogma proclaiming that the body and soul of the Mother of God was taken into heaven constitutes a truth revealed by God which had been accepted by the Christian people since the early centuries of the Catholic Church. This dogma represents one of the many appeals of our Lady to her children so that they don't fall into the grasp of her eternal enemy who is trying until the end of the world to infiltrate his evil designs and sink the bark of Peter. The devil calls on his allies to achieve his aims.
It is very important to bear in mind that Marian devotion constitutes a mother's help to protect her children. In addition, the fundamental plan of Divine Providence for the eternal salvation of humanity includes devotion to Mary. Soon after the sin of Adam and Eve, God promised the Redeemer (the new Adam) to come through our Lady (the new Eve) in His address to the devil:
And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing,... I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." (Gen. 3:14, 15)
This magnificent sentence is like a "milestone" and "compass" in the history of the Christian religion and Mariology. This extract from Genesis shows clearly the important role of the Virgin Mary in the plan of Redemption for humanity in such a way that one cannot think of the Redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ without thinking of the role of our Lady. Cardinal Billot referred to this prophecy and explained the role of our Lady by saying:
In the plan of reparation the Virgin Mary occupies the same place of Eve in the order of the Fall: in other words, the prophesy of Genesis teaches us that the whole work of Redemption constitutes a sort of victory over the devil and all that Satan had planned to make us fall. God turned the tables in order to achieve our salvation: in addition to the new Adam who is Christ, there had to be a new Eve who is Mary and who had to be indivisibly united to Him, in order to upset the devil's plans.
Our Lady's title as Help of Christians (Auxilium Christianorum) constitutes an excellent image of the role of our Lady as the one who helps Christians against the designs of the serpent. Don Bosco claims:
According to the documentary evidence about the life of Mary we can appreciate the zeal which she shows towards the salvation of the world and the increase in the glory of the Holy Church throughout the ages. She directed and counselled the Apostles and the disciples; she encouraged one and all to maintain the Faith and to keep and maintain grace.... However the most holy Mary started to truly help Christians following her glorious Assumption.
The role of Mary as a Helper of Christians has been demonstrated throughout the ages following her Assumption, however our Lady appears to have wanted to intervene more strongly when the Church was being attacked in regard to the truth of the Faith and to defend the Church from the arms of the enemy."
There were a number of Marian interventions in support of the Church and these include the victory against the Turks at Lepanto (1571) during the reign of Pope Pius V, the liberation of Vienna from the Moslems (1683) during the time of Innocent XI, and the liberation of Pius VII from Napoleonic imprisonment (May 24, 1814). This last event inspired the proclamation of the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians held each year on May 24, the anniversary of the freeing of the pope.
The dogma of the Assumption forms part of this Divine plan, which envisages that our Lady should not only be the Victress over errors and heresies inspired by the devil but also the source of maternal help to her spiritual children during times of danger.
Dogmatic proclamations regarding our Lady, just as her apparitions at Lourdes, France, and Fatima, Portugal, have coincided with periods when the Church was in danger. In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to counteract those who denied the supernatural. Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Our Lady to encourage mankind to concentrate on heavenly things rather than earthly matters. He used the dogma of the Assumption to combat materialism in all forms and communism in particular.
On account of the modernist thinking and the resulting "opening" to the world, Marian dogma along with other Church dogma is now perceived as an imposition upon the freedom of Catholic consciences and a non-ecumenical "push" which distances the "separated brethren"—Protestants and the Orthodox—from "Church unity." According to this ecumenical vision, dogma becomes an exaggeration which hinders dialogue with those others who don't believe. The new orientation of tolerance towards error means that our Lady is no longer the one who crushes the head of the serpent, but, on the contrary, the one who enters into a dialogue with the devil. (Is she Eve or a New Eve?!) The most blessed Mary is no longer the helper who helps her children, but the "gentle peacemaker" who opens the door to the enemy! This is an effectual denial of the motherly guide given us by Divine Providence who deigned that Mary be the Victress over the devil to defend her children from the enemies of the Catholic Faith.
Isn't it true that since the Second Vatican Council, the hierarchy of the Church has been practically penetrated by this new Mariology? Couldn't the Second Vatican Council have offered the opportunity to make us understand our Lady better, perhaps dogmatically defining her privileges further for us? What did it do? Is it true that dogmas are walls which bring about division? Is it true that if we "exaggerate" the privileges of the New Eve we are in danger of hiding the role of our "only Mediator," our Lord Jesus Christ, and force our "separated brethren" away from the Church"? Before we answer these questions, let us consider what is a dogma and how the dogmatic definition of our Lady's assumption was achieved.
A blessing from Heaven
A dogma is a truth directly proposed by the infallible Magisterium of the Church for our belief as an article of divine revelation. The dogma only makes explicit that which is contained in the deposit of the Faith. The deposit of the Faith closed with the death of the last surviving Apostle.
When the Church acts in this way, the Church is following the internal law of its doctrinal development. This doctrine is inspired and guided by the Holy Ghost in order to feed and guide the "flock" of the Church towards the "eternal pastures." According to the First Vatican Council, the role of the Pontifical Magisterium is to guard, explain, and pass on the deposit of Divine Revelation.
When the Holy Church proclaims a dogma like the one on the Assumption, the Church is making explicit that which Christians, preserving the deposit of revelation by faith, had always believed implicitly. This means the early Christians, who believed in the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, also believed implicitly (but objectively) in the dogma of the Assumption despite the fact that they didn't know it explicitly. All Catholics had an explicit faith (personally, subjectively) once the dogma of the Assumption was proclaimed on November 1, 1950, in St. Peter's.
Both the early Christians and those in 1950 have the same faith, but the faith of the faithful of 1950 was enriched by the infallible "explicitation" of the Roman Pontiff. When Pope Pius XII proclaimed this dogma, he strengthened the Faith objectively and increased the true devotion towards our Lady. In addition, the Pope's proclamation also moved the Catholics to hold this truth, contained in the deposit of the Faith, as if God himself had spoken—a true blessing from heaven!
The history of the belief in Our Lady's Assumption
How did this "explicitation" come about?
In the first four centuries the truth regarding the corporal Assumption was not taught explicitly, but it was certainly presented in an implicit way. From the 5th to the 13th centuries, there is plenty of evidence which is explicit. Towards the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th, the Church Fathers held a certain and explicit belief in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. In the West, Pope Sergius I (687-701) ruled that the Feast of the Dormition of Mary (the Sleep of Mary) had to start with a solemn procession. A like rule also applied to the feasts of the Annunciation, Nativity, and Purification. Since the 13th century the bodily assumption of our Lady was considered as certain fact and the denial of this truth was considered "temerarious."
The request for a dogmatic definition of the Assumption began in earnest in the middle of the 17th century. In 1849, Cardinal Sterk, Archbishop of Malines, Belgium, and Bishop Sanchez of Osman, Spain, inquired Rome for dogmatic definitions both for the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.
In 1863, Queen Isabella II of Spain (1833-68), moved by [St.] Anthony Marie Claret, asked Pope Pius IX to publish as dogma the mystery of the Assumption. At the time, His Holiness was absorbed by the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, the definition of which he thought was not timely, though he replied that he was certain there could be a possible definition of the Assumption at a future date. Pope Pius IX answered the letter of the Queen Isabella (Feb. 13, 1864):
There is no doubt that the manner in which the faithful believe in the Assumption stems from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception; however, all things will come about in due course, and I don't consider myself worthy to publish as a dogma this second mystery. A time will come when the holy wishes of your Royal Highness will be fulfilled. In the meantime, one should continue to pray.
The advancement of the issue of the mystery of the Assumption was interrupted by Vatican Council I (Oct. 1870). A preparatory commission of 204 bishops and theologians had asked for the definition of the dogma. According to the designs of Divine Providence, however, the time would be later for this truth to come to fruition.
Historians of the Assumption claim that following the letter of Pope Pius IX of 1864, a true movement regarding the Assumption gained momentum which culminated in the proclamation of the dogma in 1950. This movement can be divided into three stages:
The first period was rather uneventful. The second, following a good start, suffered a reversal between 1902 and 1906 due to the hostility to the definition of the modernists who were very active at the time. In 1917, however, the bishops of the ancient Austrian Empire, representing 24 million Catholics, presented a collective petition on behalf of the dogmatic definition.
During the third period and especially during the reign of Pope Pius XI, the movement regarding the Assumption became very strong and spread throughout the whole world through various international committees. Among the outstanding various activities was the Plebescite (1929-37), based in Verona, Italy, which collected a large number of signatures of religious and faithful. The organizers confidently affirmed that "the event has become one of the Faith's most important affirmations regarding Mary."
The encyclical Mystici Corporis of Pope Pius XII (1943) explicitly mentions the corporal and spiritual assumption of our Lady. Immediately after World War II, two large volumes containing the "petitions" supportive of the dogma were published. The movement in favor of the Assumption of Our Lady was soon to reach its climax, the event which on its eve Pope Pius XII claimed would be "an occasion of great joy."
The long-anticipated dogma was solemnly declared in the bull Munificentissimus Deus (Nov. 1, 1950), marking a memorable date in the history of the Church. The Catholic world had not witnessed such a joyful event since 1870 when the First Vatican Council had declared the dogma of papal infallibility.
Is this dogma an exaggeration?
This great dogma of the Catholic Church is called an exaggeration by some because, they say, it only increases division and hinders "full unity." This is an anti-dogma mentality which is Protestant, modernistic and Masonic (daughters of the same Protestantism). This mentality intends to claim a certain perfection of human morality, a denial in practice of the important link between the dogma and the same morality.
Attacks by those of protestant and liberal mentalities, attacks against the divine tradition of the Church, reared their heads against the proclamation of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and papal infallibility.
Martin Luther claimed that the celebration of Our Lady's assumption must be suppressed because it was a popish invention, led to idolatry, had no basis in Sacred Scripture, and was an insult to Christ. Another opponent was Anglican bishop K. N. Ross of All Saints in London, who in anticipation of the proclamation of the dogma called the belief "the most surprising example of the indifference of the Roman Catholics in the face of the historical evidence," and "an illusion of devotion for the faithful in the Holy Year."
By 1950, modernist and neo-modernist thought was strong within the Church. As a result of protestant attacks, many mid-century faithful regarded the event as an obstacle to the return of "separated brethren" to the Church. Cardinal Pizzardo referred to this problem during the International Marian Congress held in 1950 (Oct. 23-28):
These attacks may offer sincere Protestants the opportunity to return if they were to reflect within themselves:
The Pope, acknowledged by the whole world as being a ruler, brings out to light, we can say, from the deposit of the Faith which he must guard, a new dogma. This event comes about at a time when dangerous currents are seeking to weaken this dogma. Through the sign of imposing this dogma upon 400 million Catholics, the sovereign Pontiff is solemnly affirming that he is the successor of Peter, is infallible, an heir to that promise of Divine Assistance which Christ made to Peter and his successors.
A Protestant will have to ask himself:
Could Pope Pius XII, whom we all acknowledge possesses exceptional qualities of rectitude, sincerity, spiritual nobility, of justice, of charity and sacrifice, be completely wrong? Can we honestly say that he committed a grave error? Could it be that we are in the wrong? Perhaps it would be wise to revise our attitude in regard to the Catholic Church?
We, devout children of Mary and who are happy to possess the truth and to witness the glorification of our Mother, we ask her solemnly on this day to remember our separated brothers so that they may re-enter the family whose Mother and Queen is Mary."
The gist of Cardinal Pizzardo's speech shows us what should be the Catholic attitude in the face of the attacks of the enemy against the dogma. In any case, we should not feel obliged to ask them pardon! Cardinal Pizzardo has shown that the affirmation of dogma which the Pope is duty-bound to guard, does not constitute a "barrier." On the contrary, it should be an additional motive for those non-Catholics seriously seeking unity without delusion.
According to his dogmatic bull, Pope Pius XII notes the motives of the importance of the definition:
We... are confident that this solemn proclamation and definition of the Assumption will contribute in no small say to the advantage of human society, since it redounds to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, to which the Blessed Mother of God is bound by such singular bonds. It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the soul of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all members of this august body. And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father's will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.
We rejoice greatly that this solemn event falls, according to the design of God's providence, during the Holy Year, so that we are able, while the great Jubilee is being observed, to adorn the brow of God's Virgin Mother with this brilliant gem, and to leave a monument more enduring than bronze of our own most fervent love for the Mother of God." [Munificentissimus Deus, §§42-43]
The reasons moving Pope Pius XII to define this dogma are not ecumenical nor naturist, but supernatural. In this way, Pius XII was a sovereign who steered the "boat of Peter" towards the supernatural "harbor" of heaven. Pope Pius XII, a most holy Father, was only educating his children of the Catholic Church in order to guide them more firmly towards those things which belong to heaven, and distracting them from the things of this world. Furthermore, the pope, the Vicar of Christ, was following the command of supernatural charity (God is Charity) which looks firstly towards the glory of God and the salvation of the souls within the Church—the duty of the shepherd—and finally the salvation of those who are outside the true Church.
Pope Pius XII proved that, in fact, he was genuinely ecumenical by attempting to draw towards the Truth the separated brethren by displaying his supernatural convictions, as a loving father towards his wayward children. He rejected the kind of compromise responsible for making not only the separated brethren distance themselves from the Church, but also her very children.
Is the dogma of the Assumption a first step or an arrival point?
The Catholic Church's historical progress from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to the Assumption has led to a Marian development which has been marked by a true "wave of devotion" on the part of the faithful. Pope Pius XII said in Lent (Mar. 10, 1948):
The most important sign of our times is the ever growing manifestation of the confidence and filial love which leads souls to the most pure and immaculate Virgin Mary. This manifestation is truly magnificent."
If one accepts the historical fact of the parallel progress of dogma and devotion, the following question comes to mind. Has the ever increasing enthusiasm towards our Lady, especially since 1950, been supported by an equally increasing enthusiasm to dogmatize truths about the Virgin Mary? In his speech at the International Marian Congress already excerpted, Cardinal Pizzardo understood the dogma of the Assumption to be simultaneously a point of arrival and a point of departure. He understood it as an arrival point for the preceding two dogmatic declarations regarding our Lady's Divine Maternity (Council of Ephesus, 431) and the Immaculate Conception (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854). However, he also said that the definition of the Assumption would "mark a point of departure," the beginning of a new process of more intense clarification which will allow a more clear and profound understanding of the unspeakable mysteries of Mary which Pius IX described in Ineffabilis Deus as "the peak of all the miracles." Has this process of a more intense understanding come about? Did the Second Vatican Council support further dogmatic clarifications regarding Our Lady? Specifically, did it support a dogmatic definition of Mary as "Mediatrix of All Graces," the next logical step after the dogma of the Assumption? The answer is clearly no. The Council did not want to dogmatically define the title of our Lady as "Mediatrix of All Graces" because in so doing it would have opposed the new ecumenical trend which seeks human agreement with religious separatists, which necessarily excludes dogmatic definitions.
Relative to these facts, 1950 represented an arrival point rather than the first step leading to further dogmatic progress envisioned so hopefully by Cardinal Pizzardo.
He who doesn't move forward will inevitably move backward
Dogmatic development is part and parcel of the same nature of the Church herself which, having been guided by the Holy Ghost, is called on to make clear His heavenly doctrine in order to pass it on to the faithful. Given this point, it is disobedience to the law of the nature of the Mystical Body of Christ to put a false brake upon genuine doctrinal development. Such disobedience fosters the same anarchy and disorder which results from any form of disobedience against the law.
That Vatican II put a brake on this process of dogmatization on account of ecumenism is to follow Eve's path of disobedience and to fall into the paradox of promoting Mariology without following its laws. Rather than Mariology we should call it "Eve-ology!"
The liberal wing of Vatican Council II succeeded in bringing about a false notion of the importance of Holy Scripture, putting aside Tradition and the Magisterium as guides for dogmatic development of Mariology and the other theological sciences. Having removed the "leaven" of the Church's Magisterium guided by the Holy Ghost, the "pasta" of her doctrine ceases to develop and gradually dries out. The objective behind this shift was to concentrate on expressions closer to the sources and thereby more ecumenical in order to form a basis which is equally valid for Catholics and all the others. In this context, the traditional Magisterium of the Church, with which not only our separated brothers but also the ecumenical hierarchy are uncomfortable, would constitute an obstacle to a common agreement.
Pius XII, faced with the real danger of emancipation of the role of Tradition and the Magisterium, laid down things clearly in his encyclical Humani Generis:
In theology some want to reduce to a minimum the meaning of dogmas; and to free dogma itself from terminology long established in the Church and from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers, to bring about a return in the explanation of Catholic doctrine to the way of speaking used in Holy Scripture and by the Fathers of the Church. They cherish the hope that when dogma is stripped of the elements which they hold to be extrinsic to divine revelation it will compare advantageously with the dogmatic opinions of those who are separated from the unity of the Church and that in this way they will gradually arrive at a mutual assimilation of Catholic dogma with the tenets of the dissidents." (§14)
Is the Mary Assumed into Heaven a "Mediatrix" or a "Conciliatrix?"
For all those happy to be considered Catholics, the dogma of the Assumption is a true blessing from heaven:
On this day of great joy and this opening of heaven, there must have been not only a showering upon souls of a wave of angelic happiness in harmony with those of all the Church Militant, but also a deluge of graces and teachings which stimulate an efficacious renewal of holiness." (Pope Pius XII's papal speech, Nov. 1, 1950)
Exactly what kind of insanity afflicted the Second Vatican Council? At the root, we should ask, "Why did they want to change direction when everything was going well? If it worked, why fix it?" A community which changes the things which are going fine is insane! However, this is exactly what the Vatican II did.
Indeed, even the First Vatican Council was on the verge of seconding the movement in favor of our Lady as "Mediatrix of All Graces." This further deepening of the theological understanding of the Blessed Virgin Mary would have crowned devotion to her universal mediation. A number of popes have presented clear teaching about the matter. This teaching has been reflected in the work of the bishops in their various provincial councils. Cardinal Mercier sent a letter to more than 450 bishops about the matter. Cardinal Mercier established a special commission to study and promote the eventual definition of the dogma of "Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces." This commission was established following the end of World War I.
Fr. Merkelbach, an eminent member of this commission, based his arguments for the definition of a new dogma on the "New Eve" of the Genesis account. As early as 1921, he claimed that the universal mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary could be defined as a dogma of the Faith. In the same year, Pope Benedict XV gave his assent to the introduction of a liturgical feast of Our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces. The 1942 decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Rites for the canonization of St. Louis de Montfort was in part a confirmation of the existence of the doctrine of Mary Mediatrix of All Graces, not only in the tradition of the Church but also in the unanimous acceptance of theologians. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, many Church fathers had asked if a definition would be forthcoming.
At the Council itself, however, Our Lady was put aside.
Instead of preparing an individual schema on the dogma as first envisioned by the Council preparatory commission, only a single chapter (two paragraphs long) at the end of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium was finally published. It was titled, "Mary, Sign of True Hope and Comfort for the People of God." On the basis of these paragraphs, the ecumenical spirit which impregnated the Conciliar Mariology is evident:
In the meantime the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. II Pet. 3:10), a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.
It gives great joy and comfort to this sacred synod that among the separated brethren too there are those who give due honor to the Mother of Our Lord and Savior, especially among the Easterns, who with devout mind and fervent impulse give honor to the Mother of God, ever virgin. The entire body of the faithful pours forth urgent supplications to the Mother of God and of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored by the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Savior, may be happily gathered together to peace and harmony into one People of God, for the glory of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity." (Lumen Gentium, §§68-69)
A deliberate effort is made in the Conciliar Mariology to avoid mentioning anything of the errors—or anything leading to the errors—of religious separatists and all others regarding the Church's true teaching on Mary. In other words, a new Marian spirit, made official at the Council, was designed to achieve a false reconciliation with the separated brethren by establishing a minimal common ground. This common ground would be a defense of the essential facts only, and would be an opportunity for understanding amongst the various schools without exaggerations or the creation of "needless" divisions. This was an attempt to "humanize" our Lady in such a way that she would no longer constitute an element of division as in the past. This mentality has brought about the elimination of one of the true treasures of the Church, that is, dogma itself.
The reductionist mentality of this "new Mariology" attacks two main principles of traditional Catholic belief regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary. The "new Mariology" has reversed these two principles to the point that it now holds that:
- Our Lady should no longer oppose the enemy,
- Our Lady should no longer be "too" exalted in her privileges. This is to say, in other words, we need to hide the devil, whom our Lady has under her foot, and to cover the halo that marks her as the one with a special place in the bosom of the Most Blessed Trinity.
On the basis of the first point, the new Marianists no longer want to consider our Lady assumed into heaven as the Auxilium Christianorum who defends the Church against the attacks of the enemies. This has been the constant teaching of the popes and saints. Instead, however, they regard our Lady assumed into heaven as a "Conciliatrix" who seeks to find an understanding with her enemies in an ecumenical context. In the past, Mary was a sign of Catholic Truth to which there could be no indifference. In this sense, she divided men's hearts to be for or against her Son. Following Vatican II, however, the focus of the Catholic Church in regard to the other Christians and the world has shifted. Antagonism against the enemy is no longer mentioned because how we think about Mary has changed.
At the same time, new Marianists attack the famous Scripture reference (Gen. 3:15) that is the cornerstone of the Mariological tradition. L'Osservatore Romano (Jan. 25, 1996) reported that expounders of the new Mariology "agree that the action against the snake in the Biblical passage cannot be directly attributed to the Woman."
With regard to the second point that we shouldn't exaggerate the privileges of our Lady, the present pope [John Paul II] has said in effect, "Attributing to our Lady 'the maximum' cannot constitute the norm of Mariology" (L'Osservatore Romano, Jan. 4, 1996). L'Osservatore Romano also reported (Jan. 4, 1997) that Marian titles such as "Mediatrix" were considered an "ecumenical difficulty" by the Marian Congress that year in Czestochowa, Poland. In these two points we find a contradiction to the traditional teaching of the Church which regards Our Lady as the shield against all errors and the heavenly Queen who distributes all graces.
There is the common objection that if we honor the role of our heavenly Mother, we lower the role of our Lord Jesus Christ in regard to His role as "sole Mediator" and that Catholic teaching distances the majority of the separated brethren from the Catholic Church. We reply that, on the contrary, common sense tells us that the Son takes pleasure when He sees His Mother so honored. Further, traditional Catholic Mariology on the Mediatrix of All Graces more intensely highlights the role of our Lord Jesus Christ in at least two ways:
- The power of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is such that He not only brings about our salvation but also enlists others who cooperate in the work of our salvation. In the case of the Mother of God, this cooperation reaches the highest possible level for without her our Lord could not have taken flesh nor offered it for us.
- The mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ who, in giving us graces, avails Himself of a number of means so that the divine is linked to us in a way which conforms to our nature, to our psychology, which He loves because we are the work of His hands, leads to our salvation and perfection.
Contrary to the claims of Luther and Calvin, the exaltation of our Lady as the Mediatrix of All Graces will not dethrone Christ. On the contrary, it elevates and intensifies Catholic teaching on the role of the only Mediator and highlights His power and mercy. In so far as the separated brethren who are in good faith are concerned, it would only be another factor to bring them closer to the Truth or to become members of the Catholic Church.
The 50th anniversary of the Assumption is a time to increase true devotion to our Lady and our hope of heaven, where we are all called to live in soul and body as the dogma itself confirms. This anniversary must call us to detach ourselves from the "worldly spirit" in order to attach ourselves to a more fervent desire for heaven.
The worldly spirit is the spirit of the "prince of this world," the devil, while the Assumption is only about the spirit of heaven. St. Louis Grignon de Montfort said:
God has never made and formed but one enmity; but it is an irreconcilable one, which shall endure and grow even to the end. It is between Mary, His worthy Mother, and the devil—between the children and the servants of the Blessed Virgin, and the children and tools of Lucifer. The most terrible of all the enemies which God has set up against the devil is His holy Mother Mary."
Catholic Mariology rests on the "Protogospel" of Genesis 3:15, which shows our Lady as the opposite of Eve. Pope Pius XII asserts in Munificentissimus Deus that the truth of the bodily assumption of Mary into the glory of heaven rests mainly on this passage of Sacred Scripture, as did Pope Pius IX in defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The climate of false peace fostered by the Second Vatican Council has diluted the substance of this foundational Scripture. It is true that our Lady does want peace, but not by means of compromise. In fact, the immaculate purity of the Assumption does not tolerate any type of "meddling" because that would be contrary to its own immaculate nature. Archbishop Lefebvre commented:
Mary will keep us in the Catholic Faith. She is neither liberal, nor modernist, nor ecumenical. She is impervious to all errors and, with even greater reason, to heresies and apostasy."
If the Assumption, as we have said, is an appeal to distance ourselves from the spirit of the world, we must also renounce the spirit of compromise which at first sight may appear just as attractive as the forbidden fruit to Eve. We are children of Mary and of the Church. We don't want to imitate Eve. We want to imitate our Blessed Mary and all her holy children who make up part of that seed which is a perennial enemy of the slaves of Satan, "the friends of the world."
Pope Pius X had the same understanding of things when recalling the fiftieth anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception:
Oh, how bitterly and fiercely is Jesus Christ now being persecuted, and the most holy religion which He founded! And how grave is the peril that threatens many of being drawn away by the errors that are afoot on all sides, to the abandonment of the faith! "Then let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. 10:12). And let all, with humble prayer and entreaty, implore of God, through the intercession of Mary, that those who have abandoned the truth may repent.... True, even in the future the strife against the Church will never cease, "for there must be also heresies, that they also who are reproved may be made manifest among you" (I Cor. 11:19). But neither will the Virgin ever cease to succor us in our trials, however grave they be, and to carry on the fight fought by her since her conception, so that every day we may repeat: "Today the head of the serpent of old was crushed by her" (Office of the Immaculate Conception, 2nd Vespers, Magnificat). (Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, §25).13
The 50th anniversary of the dogma of the Assumption, seen from the point of view of the Catholic Magisterium, is an occasion of great joy for all the children of Mary. They have another proof of the maternal protection to help them attain, thanks to her maternal help, the heavenly state where she already reigns body and soul. Regina in caelum assumpta, ora pro nobis!
1. AA. VV., Marie Mere de Grace (Paris, 1921), p. 68. Cf. De Verbo Incarnato, 3rd edition (Rome 1900), Thesis 34, 350.
2. Domenico Bertetto, S.D.B., Mary in Catholic Dogma (Turin: Ed. International, 1955), pp. 634-635. With regard to the powerful assistance of our Lady, especially in regard to that which is related to the defense of the Faith, we quote Pope Leo XIII:
She is the one who has given and strengthened the scepter of the Faith; and she has never ceased to ensure that the Catholic Faith remains firm, intact, and fruitful amongst the faithful. There are numerous and famous instances and which have been witnessed in a marvelous manner" (Adjutricem Populi, Sept. 5, 1885).
3. All Divine Revelation is found in the deposit of the Faith, Tradition, and Sacred Scriptures. This divine deposit was sealed following the death of the last Apostle. The successors of the Apostles can only pass on faithfully and exactly the truth contained in the sacred deposit.
4. Catholic Encyclopedia (Florence: G.C. Sansoni, 1951), "Voice of the Assumption," co1. 202.
5. The controversy concerns the issue of whether or not our Lady died. Munificentissimus Deus doesn't canvass the issue of how Our Lady passed from this earth. It is possible to hold that Our Lady did not die, but only slept.
6. Pope Pius XII, Documentation Catholique, 1950, papal pronouncement of Oct. 30, 1950, col. 1493.
7. Domenico Bertetto, S.D.B., Mary and the Protestants (Desclee & C, 1957), p. 133.
8. Cardinal Pizzardo, Documentation Catholique, International Marian Congress, col. 1506.
9. In regard to this definition Fr. Mekelbach, O.P., asserts:
The mediation of Mary, one can say, has been revealed, in an equivalent manner, in the dogma of the New Eve through which the woman had been foretold to the ancestors. Together with her Son, Mary is the cause of not only the Redemption, the salvation, but also the transmission of supernatural life to people. She was made the true Mother of the living just as the first Eve was the cause of the first transgression and also the transmission of the sin.... Consequently, it is natural that we desire her definition, and in actual fact we do desire it because it would serve to highlight her greatness and the beneficial intervention of the Mother of God in all the degrees of salvation, and to promote the devotion of the faithful and the salvation of all mankind" (D. Bertetto, op. cit., 610-611. Cf. Merkelbach, Mariology, pp. 380-381).
Cardinal Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) always affirmed in regard to Mary as Mediatrix that:
The application of the merits of Jesus Christ constitutes one complete work of salvation thanks to its acquisition. It stands to reason that our Lady co-operates in the same manner in the two parts of this work; this is demanded by the unity of the divine plan" (L'Osservatore Romano, Dec. 8, 1937).
10. Cf. Catholic Tradition No. 33, "Lumen Gentium: Beginning of a Two-Headed Church," pp. 8-9.
11. St. Louis Grignon de Montfort, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin (Rockford, IL: TAN Books & Publishers, Inc., 1985), pp. 30-31.
12. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Spiritual Journey (Kansas City, MO: Angelus Press, 1991), p. 56.
13. St. Pius X, Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, Feb. 2, 1904.