Marian Theology: The Feast of the Assumption – August 15
August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, dates to the 6th and 7th centuries. The official proclamation of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII in Munificentisimus Deus as an article of faith for Catholics occurred recently, on November 1, 1950. Objections to this teaching cite the absence of support for it in Scripture and in the Fathers of the Church. These same arguments are also made against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which states that Mary received the benefit of the redemption in advance from the moment of her conception. However, since the theological significance of Mary is intertwined with that of Christ, as mother and son, much of what we say about Mary (Mariology) derives from what we say about the identity and meaning of Christ (Christology).
For most Catholics, Orthodox, Coptics, and Anglicans, images and veneration of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, are part of the very fabric of their faith. This emotional and doctrinal emphasis on Miriam of Nazareth gives many in the Anabaptist and Calvinist traditions emotional and doctrinal heartburn. Some evangelicals are strident in their belief that Marian devotion – at best – detracts from the key act of salvation, which they formulate as “accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.”
The notion of salvation in the apostolic churches is centered on the church community. Christ’s death and resurrection has saved all and we enter into this paschal mystery embodied in the church. Our salvation is entering the faith community, the Body of Christ. From the earliest days, the Fathers of the Church identified Mary as the model of the Church. The following excerpt, taken from Wikipedia’s article on Roman Catholic Mariology, summarizes the position and importance of the Blessed Mother. Please note that the words in parentheses are my own.
Pope Benedict XVI addresses the issue, why Mariology is related to ecclesiology (the theology of the Church). On first sight, he argues, it may seem accidental, that the (Second Vatican) Council moved Mariology into ecclesiology. This relation helps to understand what “Church” really is. The theologian Hugo Rahner showed that Mariology was originally ecclesiology. The Church is like Mary.
The Church is virgin and mother, she is immaculate and carries the burdens of history. She suffers and she is assumed into heaven. Slowly she learns, that Mary is her mirror, that she is a person in Mary. Mary on the other hand is not an isolated individual, who rests in herself. She is carrying the mystery of the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI lamented that this unity of Church and Mary was overshadowed in later centuries, which overburdened Mary with privileges and removed her into a far away distance. Both Mariology and ecclesiology suffered under this. A Marian view of the Church and an ecclesiological view of Mary in salvation history lead directly to Christ. It brings to light what is meant by holiness and by God being human.
It is interesting to note that Pope Benedict XVI laments the removal of Mary “overburdened … with privileges.” This is also the image of Mary lamented by the reformation. However, the close identification of Mary with the Church, in the sense that “Mary is carrying the mystery of the Church,” represents a notion of church that many of the reformers rejected. Consequently, they rejected the image and role of Mary, and with it, the redemptive grace and power of the feminine.