There are four solemnities honoring the Mother of Jesus that are kept
throughout the Catholic church: The Immaculate conception (December 8),
her divine Motherhood (January 1), the Annunciation (March 25), her Assumption (August
15). The last
named has become the most celebrated, giving rise to all manner of
festivities and to a great variety of pictorial representations.
The New Testament says nothing about Mary's death and Assumption, but as
Pius XII states in the constitution Munificentissimus Deus,
which defined belief in the Assumption as a matter of faith:
the arguments and considerations of the Fathers and theologians
rest on Sacred Scripture for their ultimate foundation. The
Scriptures present the beloved Mother of God as most intimately
united with her divine Son as ever sharing in his lot. Hence,
it seems all but impossible to see her who conceived Christ. . .as
separated from him, if not in soul, yet in body, after her life on
earth was over. . .Seeing that by preserving her from the
corruption of the tomb he could give her such great honor, we must
believe that he actually did so."
Speaking more poetically, St. John Damascene (d. 749), who is called the
Doctor of the Assumption, writes, "On this day the sacred and
life-filled ark of the living God, she who conceived her Creator in her
womb, rests in the Temple of the Lord that is not made with hands.
David, her ancestor, leaps, and with him the angels lead the dance."
Documentation testifies that the feast was celebrated first in the Eastern
Church in the second half of the sixth century. Pope Sergius I
(687-701) ordered its observance in Rome. At first it was kept as a
memorial of Mary's death, her falling asleep (Koimesis), and it
gradually came to be a commemoration of her Assumption as such.
An apocryphal work of the fourth century, the Transitus Mariae (The
Passing of Mary), which appeared in several languages and in many versions,
no doubt had some effect in spreading belief in the Assumption. But
the Church's faith in this teaching is not based on it. As one
Anglican scholar put it, "The belief was never founded on that
story. The story was founded on the belief, and testifies to the
fact of the belief."
centuries Christian art has given varied expression to belief in Mary's
Assumption. We can divide the progress of these expressions into
three principal "moments": Mary's falling asleep (her death),
her rising to heaven (the Assumption), and finally her coronation.
Each of these moments gave rise to some ancillary episodes so that at
length we can enumerate the following stages:
The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and announces that in three days she
will die. He presents her with a palm, symbol of the victory
over sin and death that she shares with her Son.
answer to her earnest prayer, all the
Apostles arrive to bid their
Mary dies, and Christ comes
to take her soul to heaven.
4. In solemn procession, the Apostles bear
Mary's body to her grave.
On the third day, her body is taken from the tomb by angels who
carry it to heaven. Later versions picture Mary rising by
herself (like her Son at His Ascension) but still accompanied by
hosts of angels.
Mary is crowned as Queen of Heaven and Earth, a final completion, as
it were, of her Assumption. This has been depicted in four
different ways: Often she is crowned by her Son alone; sometimes by
one or two angels; on occasion by the Father alone; frequently by
all Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity together. The first
and last of these proved to be the most popular versions.
Announcement of Mary's Death"
to About Mary