Every religious culture has its own jargon. Some expressions have pulled loose from their religious moorings and entered our common lexicon. I think of “mecca,” “nirvana,” and “kosher.” Catholicism is no exception. You don’t have to be a believer to call someone “Mother Teresa” or to know that a “Hail Mary pass” is one of the riskiest throws in football.
Other terms, though, form part of the language of faith and can be daunting for the uninitiated. Try on “transubstantiation” for size, or “Incarnation.” My most recent favorite crossed my path last Dec. 8 on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (there’s one for you): “prevenient grace.” The poor elderly priest who was offering Mass was as startled by that revision in the Roman Missal as we were, and from what I read on Facebook, he wasn’t the only celebrant to slip and slide all over it.
Today’s solemnity of Mary’s Assumption into heaven is yet another. We think of assumptions as “givens” in a person’s thought processes or structures. The word actually comes from the Latin, “to take to or into.” So the mystery we recall today is the day that Mary was taken into heaven, body and soul.
No, you’re right, it’s not in Scripture. So what possessed the Pope to declare it a dogma of faith nearly 2,000 years after the event? The Church’s call from many quarters to see it proclaimed as such—the sensus fidelium, or sense of the faithful that held it to be true regardless of dogma—ebbed and flowed over the centuries. It wasn’t that Pope Pius XII woke up one morning in 1950 and decided to add it to his to-do list. Some mainline Protestants include it in their traditions and liturgies; certainly all the Churches of the East do, in the feast of the Dormition, or falling asleep, of the Mother of God.