“We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus

With those words Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus. It is a funny little divinely  ordained, yet seemingly coincidental, fact that we celebrate this August feast during the season when so many are scantily clad as they lounge poolside or frolic on the beach. The Feast of the Assumption, celebrated on August 15th, offers the Church the opportunity to meditate on the significance of the body. Pope Pius wrote, “in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined.”

As the Church today considers the Assumption of Mary, she is enriched by the teachings of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. This work of the former pope does not contain new beliefs. Rather it is the development and fresh presentation of timeless doctrines on the truth of the human person as an embodied soul. To begin his reflections, John Paul went back to “the beginning” and studied the creation accounts. There are two different accounts of the creation of humanity, and from these, the theologian pope drew a rich understanding of the human person that became even more sublime in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ and his salvific life, death and resurrection. This essay could not possibly delve deeply into the vast teaching of John Paul. It will focus on one important point: 

The body is integral to the human person.

The human body is not an encasing for the soul. Nor is it an alternative entity to the soul. It is the manifestation of the person, who, made in the image and likeness of God, is an enfleshed soul. The soul, with the faculties of the intellect and will, reveals itself and realizes its intentions through the body. 

Consider the example of spousal love. To love is an act of the will, initiated in the soul, but the most intimate and complete expression of love between two persons is through sexual union. The bodily union of the spouses, expresses and accomplishes the communion of their persons. For this reason, it is contrary to natural law and moral law for unmarried persons to engage in sexual acts. There can be no separation of body and person. Offering the totality of the body in sexual union, is an offering of the totality of the person. If the entirety of the persons are not bound to each other in marriage, then these actions become a lie. While most will focus on the sexual ethic when unpacking truths of John Paul’s Theology of the Body, the implications of his teaching are complex and far reaching, shed light on all aspects of the dignity and significance of the human person as an enfleshed soul.

Applied to the dogma of the Assumption, the Theology of the Body is consistent with the teachings that Pius XII highlighted in his proclamation. Pius connected the singular grace of Mary’s Immaculate Conception to that of her Assumption. God did not intend the corruption of death for human beings. But man sinned, and death entered the created order. This “original sin” and its effects were passed on from the first couple so that all human beings now possess a fallen nature. Because of this fallen nature the intellect of each person is darkened, the will is weakened, and the body is subject to destruction and death. The wages of sin affect the entirety of the human person – body and soul. 

However God’s designs cannot be thwarted by man’s actions, so “in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of woman…”(Gal. 4:4). The Second Person of the Trinity, took flesh and became a man, to redeem humanity. He died, was buried, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven. Through his human and bodily death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus Christ manifested his Divine Sonship and accomplished salvation in accordance with the Father’s Will. 

According to God’s plan, salvation would not come without the cooperation of humanity. Not only would God himself become man, to save man, but also, he would invite the woman to participate in his plan. This is foretold in the book of Genesis, immediately after the account of the Fall of Man. In this proto-evangelium, God speaks of a woman who will help him destroy the power of the devil (Gen. 3:15). God prepared and created this person, Mary, to share in his salvific work by the singular grace of preserving her from original sin. Pius XII points out that the privileges of the Immaculate Conception and of the Assumption are “closely bound to each other.” Because Mary’s soul was free of sin, her body would not suffer the corruption of sin. The totality of Mary’s personhood existed for God. The faculties of her soul never deviated from his will, and she offered her body completely to him. She remained a virgin, and in her womb, God became human. She was the perfectly integrated human person whose body manifested and accomplished the fullness of her soul.

The Church gives the faithful the Feast of Assumption so that “those who meditate upon the glorious example [of] Mary… may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others” (Munificentissimus Deus, 42). It is true that no other human person was created for the supreme vocation of being the Mother of God, but all men and women are called to live in integrity of body and soul. For the baptized, St. Paul preaches that the body “is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” so he urges, “glorify God in your body” (1Cor. 6:19-20).

Cover Image: Assumption of the Virgin, by Guido Reni, 1637.

By Elizabeth Gillson

Elizabeth Gillson recently received a Masters in Theology from Catholic Distance University. Elizabeth and her husband of 25 years live in the Diocese of Arlington, VA with their ten children. Elizabeth is a stay at home mother hoping to continue her Theological research and writing.