Santa Maria Assunta

A person who, in her very conception, is freed of the corruption of original sin, cannot die in the way that we who are not are given to dying. Death has no dominion in that case. It was the case of the Immaculate Virgin, as Catholic Christians have believed from the beginning, though it was only in 1950 that our pope, Pius XII, spelt out the dogma. He did not specify when, where, or how Mary was assumed into Heaven, at the end of her earthly sojourn; only that she was. Verily: given who she was, it could not be otherwise.

That is why in the Mass for today, and last evening’s Vigil, “avatars” of the Virgin are presented in their scriptural dress. We have the woman who crushes the serpent’s head, from Genesis; the embodiment of Wisdom, from Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus; the spouse from the Canticle of Canticles; Judith, the Queen; Mary, sister of Martha; and from the Apocalypse of Saint John the Apostle, the woman clothed with the sun.

The tradition and its corresponding associations — “the cultus” — goes back to the East. It was celebrated in Greek before it was celebrated in Latin. “The Dormition of the Theotokos” is exactly the same thing as our “taking,” our Assumptio. The cultus was fully formed and realized in the Greek liturgy by the fifth century. Pope Pius affirmed that it goes back to the Apostles, and is thus part of what we call in our Catholic language, “the Deposit of Faith.”

One may accept this or not, take it or leave it; for one does not even have to be Christian, let alone catholic and orthodox. One may be governed instead by one’s own vagrant notions, and needn’t be detained by the testimonia of twenty centuries or a billion souls, in the sight of all the heavens. Perhaps my reader is smarter.

Think, David: what is one to think?

There are, of course, theological subtleties, founded on imagined material subtleties, to fuel unnecessary sceptical debate. Did she physically die and was resurrected, in the manner of her Son, or in some other manner? The Greek habit is to be mystical, the Latin to be dogmatically cautious. But which part of “Assumed into Heaven, Body and Soul,” does one not understand? There are other eastern traditions indistinguishable from the Greek; though among our Western Protestants, the usual objection that the sources are extra-biblical (just as the biblical sources are).

Notwithstanding, everywhere, the date of 15th August has been reserved (not the Ides, incidentally; a mistake commonly made). It is a day for Mary; a day when Death is swallowed up in victory.

Well, gentle reader, here is what I am thinking:

“O Virgin prudentissima, where goest thou, bright as the morning? Fair as the Moon, shining as the Sun. O daughter of Sion.”