The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15 August, celebrates the happy departure of Mary from this life and the assumption of her body into heaven. It is regarded by the Church as her principal feast day and a further reminder of her central role in God's plan of salvation.
There is no direct scriptural reference to Our Lady's assumption, but the Scriptures were concerned with establishing the divinity of Christ, not the miraculous assumption of His mother.
While specific details as to the day, year, and manner of Our Lady's death are lacking, the Church has confidently accepted the truth of her assumption on the basis of tradition and doctrinal development.
For example, St Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451) made known to the Emperor Marcian and his wife, the Empress Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened on the request of St Thomas, was found to be empty. The Apostles concluded that the body had been taken up to heaven.
When on 1 November 1950, Pius XII declared infallibly that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was a dogma of the Catholic Faith, he was confirming what the Church had always believed down the centuries.
Vatican II, in its Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, reaffirmed Pius XII's teaching, that 'the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things (n. 59).'
More recently, the Catechism of the Catholic Church cites a Byzantine reading for the Feast of the Dormition: 'In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.'
Michael Gilchrist: Editor (email address available on request)