Only a few times in a year does the Church celebrate a very special feast in place of the prescribed Sunday liturgy. This Sunday, August 15, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the meaning of the Assumption: “The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was completed, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven, where she already shares in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all members of His Body” (CCC, 974).
Although, Thomas Aquinas does not give a special treatment to the Assumption, he accepts it as part of the Catholic faith. In his short treatise on the Hail Mary, Thomas explains that Mary’s body was not subject to decay because of her freedom from sin:
“She is purity itself, wholly lacking in every guilt of sin, for she never incurred either mortal or venial sin. so too, she was free from other penalties of sin … The Blessed Virgin was spared this penalty [that one shall turn to dust], for her body was raised up into heaven, and so we believe that after her death she was revived and transported into heaven: ‘Arise, O Lord, into your resting place, You and the ark which You hast sanctified’ [Ps 131:8]. Because the Blessed Virgin was immune from these punishments, she is ‘blessed among women.’ Moreover, she alone escaped the curse of sin, brought forth the Source of blessing, and opened the gate of heaven. It is surely fitting that her name is “Mary,” which is akin to the Star of the Sea (“Maria–maris stella”), for just as sailors are directed to port by the star of the sea, so also Christians are by Mary guided to glory” (“Explanation of the Angelic Salutation,” The Catechetical Instructions of St Thomas Aquinas, pp.209-210).
Thomas attributes the gift of Mary’s body being taken to heaven to her freedom from sin, a gift she received in view of her motherhood of Jesus:
“God so prepares and endows those, whom He chooses for some particular office, that they are rendered capable of fulfilling it, according to 2 Corinthians 3:6: “(Who) has made us fit ministers of the New Testament.” Now the Blessed Virgin was chosen by God to be His Mother. Therefore there can be no doubt that God, by His grace, made her worthy of that office, according to the words spoken to her by the angel (Luke 1:30-31): “You have found grace with God: behold you shalt conceive,” etc. But she would not have been worthy to be the Mother of God, if she had ever sinned. First, because the honor of the parents reflects on the child, according to Proverbs 17:6: “The glory of children are their fathers”: and consequently, on the other hand, the Mother’s shame would have reflected on her Son” (3a. 27, 4).
Thomas relates Mary’s name with the Latin maris stella, “star of the sea.” She is like a star guiding Christian, similar to the stars guiding sailors. The Preface for the Solemnity asserts that Mary’s Assumption gives hope and comfort to the Christians in their own journey through life: “For today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven as the beginning and image of Your Church’s coming to perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort to Your pilgrim people”
An early twelfth-century work, Liber de Assumptione, possibly by a disciple of St. Anselm, gave credence to the doctrine of the Assumption, especially because the work was attributed to St. Augustine. St. Thomas uses the Assumption to illustrate that not all doctrines can be found in Scripture:
“But as Augustine, in his tractate on the Assumption of the Virgin, argues with reason, since her body was assumed into heaven, and yet Scripture does not relate this…. For it is reasonable to believe that she, who brought forth ‘the Only-Begotten of the Father full of grace and truth,’ received greater privileges of grace than all others: hence we read (Lk. 1:28) that the angel addressed her in the words: “Hail full of grace” (Summa Theologiae, 3a, 27, 1).
Thomas connects the raising of Mary’s body with her motherhood of the Son of God. The Preface for the Solemnity of the Assumption similarly declares: “You would not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb since from her own body she marvelously brought forth Your incarnate Son, the Author of all life.”
Thomas attributes Mary’s special graces to her closeness to Jesus:
“Now Christ is the principle of grace, authoritatively as to His Godhead, instrumentally as to His humanity: whence (John 1:17) it is written: “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” But the Blessed Virgin Mary was nearest to Christ in His humanity: because He received His human nature from her. Therefore it was due to her to receive a greater fullness of grace than others” (3a. 27, 5).
Through His humanity, Jesus gives us grace:
“God gives to each one according to the purpose for which He has chosen him. And since Christ as man was predestinated and chosen to be “predestinated the Son of God in power . . . of sanctification” (Romans 1:4), it was proper to Him to have such a fullness of grace that it overflowed from Him into all, according to John 1:16: “Of His fullness we have all received.” Whereas the Blessed Virgin Mary received such a fullness of grace that she was nearest of all to the Author of grace; so that she received within her Him Who is full of all grace; and by bringing Him forth, she, in a manner, dispensed grace to all (3a. 27, 5).