I once asked a college theology class if anyone could explain the doctrine of the Assumption. A student replied, “yeah, that’s the teaching whereby the Catholic Church ‘assumes’ that Mary is in heaven.”
There’s a bit more to it than that. The Church does not just “assume” that any canonized saint in is in heaven. Rather, it authoritatively declares that a person is in glory and should therefore be honored in liturgy and imitated in life. Our church calendar is filled with saints’ days.
But why a particular day for each saint? The first evidence for this goes back to 155AD, to a bishop named Polycarp. The account of his martyrdom notes that after his execution, the faithful collected his bones, “more precious than gold,” and put them in a place of honor where every year they gathered to celebrate the anniversary of his death as a sort of “birthday” into eternal life. Celebrating Mass in the catacombs over the relics of the martyrs led to the practice of putting relics in the main altar of every church. Eventually saints who did not die a martyr’s death were also commemorated on their heavenly “birthday” and their relics were accorded great honor.
From very early times, August 15 has been observed as the “birthday” of our Blessed Lady. On this greatest of all Marian feasts we celebrate the greatest moment of her life – being permanently re-united with her son and sharing his glory.
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