The Magisterium of the Church teaches infallibly in solemn definitions of the Pope, in solemn definitions of Ecumenical Councils, and through the ordinary and universal Magisterium. All other teachings of the Magisterium are non-infallible. The infallible teachings allow for no possibility of error; all that is taught is certainly true. The non-infallible teachings allow for only a limited possibility of error, and never to such an extent that the faithful would be led away from the path of salvation.
Infallible teachings require the full assent of faith. To reject or to obstinately doubt an infallible teaching, including any and all truths on faith and morals taught under the ordinary and universal Magisterium, is the grave sin of heresy. No faithful dissent from an infallible teaching is possible.
Non-infallible teachings require the religious submission of will and intellect, not the full assent of faith. The type and degree of assent is different, because the teaching is not infallible. The limited possibility of error in the non-infallible teachings allows for a similarly limited possibility of faithful dissent.
The Papal Magisterium
The exercise of the Magisterium by the Pope is called the Papal Magisterium. The Pope is able to teach infallibly by a solemn definition (papal infallibility). He can also teach infallibly in union with his brother Bishops, either in an Ecumenical Council, or while dispersed through the world by the Universal Magisterium.
When the Pope teaches, on a matter of faith or morals, especially in a papal teaching document, such as an Apostolic Constitution, Papal Encyclical, etc., he exercises the authentic Magisterium of the Church even when his teaching is non-infallible. And these non-infallible teachings of the Pope require the religious submission of will and intellect. We are not free to believe whatever we wish unless and until the Pope expresses his teaching in an infallible manner.
Pope Pius XII: “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.”
This solemn definition of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary falls under papal infallibility. The same teaching also falls under the infallibility of the Universal Magisterium, since it is the unanimous teaching of the body of Bishops and of each successive Pope.
However, this same papal document, the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, also teaches, non-infallibly, that the Virgin Mary died and was resurrected from the dead, prior to her Assumption.
In no less than seven separate paragraphs this Apostolic Constitution refers, in one way or another, to the death of the Virgin Mary:
1. “In the same way, it was not difficult for them to admit that the great Mother of God, like her only begotten Son, had actually passed from this life.” (n. 14)
2. ” ‘Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death….’ ” (n. 17, quoting the Sacramentarium Gregorianum)
3. ” ‘As he kept you a virgin in childbirth, thus he has kept your body incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by his divine act of transferring it from the tomb.’ ” (n. 18, quoting the Byzantine liturgy)
4. “…this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death….” (n. 20, referring to the feast of the Assumption)
5. ” ‘It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death.’ ” (n. 21, quoting St. John Damascene)
6. ” ‘…she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him.’ ” (n. 22, a quote attributed to St. Modestus of Jerusalem)
7. “Hence the revered Mother of God…finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven….” (n. 40)
In no less than three places, this Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, also clearly refers to the Resurrection of the Virgin Mary:
1. “Thus, during the earliest period of scholastic theology, that most pious man, Amadeus, Bishop of Lausanne, held that the Virgin Mary’s flesh had remained incorrupt-for it is wrong to believe that her body has seen corruption-because it was really united again to her soul and, together with it, crowned with great glory in the heavenly courts.” (n. 28)
2. ” ‘What son would not bring his mother back to life and would not bring her into paradise after death if he could?’ ” (n. 35, quoting St. Francis of Sales)
3. ” ‘…she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him.’ ” (n. 22, a quote attributed to St. Modestus of Jerusalem)
The infallible teaching of the Church, given under the charism of Papal Infallibility, is that Mary was assumed, body and soul, into Heaven: “…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.”
This infallible definition of Mary’s Assumption does not mention her death and Resurrection. However, the document as a whole does clearly teach that the Virgin Mary died, and that she was raised from the dead, prior to her Assumption. Nowhere does the document discuss the possibility that Mary was assumed into Heaven without first having died and been raised from the dead. But, since the teaching of Munificentissimus Deus on Mary’s death and Resurrection is not found within the infallible definition of her Assumption, it therefore falls, at least in so far as it is presented within that document, under the Ordinary Magisterium, which is non-infallible. (Conte, New Insights into the Deposit of Faith, chapter 8, ‘Dormition, Resurrection, Assumption’)
Many Catholics claim that, because the solemn definition itself does not say whether Mary died or not prior to her Assumption, that we are free to believe whatever we wish concerning her death. This claim is a serious doctrinal error. The non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium are also required beliefs; they require the religious submission of will and intellect, not the full assent of faith, but they do require a type of belief.
Can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.
The Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus clearly and repeatedly teaches that Mary died and was resurrected from the dead prior to her Assumption. So then, why do so many Catholics reject this teaching, and even claim that the Magisterium has no such teaching? It is partly because some Catholics do not understand this distinction between infallible and non-infallible teachings, between these two different types of assent. But it is also because many Catholics do not so much believe what the Magisterium teaches, but rather the popular understanding or misunderstanding of what the Magisterium teaches. Certain magisterial teachings have become part of the popular understanding, such as the teaching against abortion. Other magisterial teachings have not become part of the popular understanding, such as the teaching that Mary died and rose prior to her Assumption.
The popular version of magisterial teaching even has the ability at times to contradict what the Magisterium actually teaches. The popular version of theology of the body is widely disseminated and accepted, and yet this version is in many ways contrary to the teachings of the Magisterium, the teachings of Pope John Paul II, and sound theology. The popular version of magisterial teaching tends to be bent by the influence of sinful secular society. So there are popular claims misrepresenting some direct abortions as if they were indirect abortions, and misrepresenting indirect abortion as if it were always moral. There are popular claims misrepresenting contraception as if it were only immoral in marriage. The strong support for abortion and contraception in secular society has turned the popular understanding of those magisterial teachings toward error.
The same is true for the teaching of the Magisterium on lying. Although lying is intrinsically evil and therefore always immoral regardless of intention or circumstances, the popular version of this magisterial teaching either claims that a lie is not a lie due to a good intention or a dire circumstance, or claims that lying is not intrinsically evil. And there are various other popular claims that attempt to justify lying, such as an exaggerated and distorted definition and application of mental reservation. The same is true for almost any intrinsically evil act that is accepted by secular society. There are many Catholics who will try to find some way to approve of those intrinsically evil acts, because they are influenced by secular society. Thus, the popular version of magisterial teaching among Catholics is often not the same as what the Magisterium actually teaches.
In the case of the death and resurrection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus could not have expressed that teaching more clearly under the ordinary non-infallible Papal Magisterium. The Pope did not present her death and resurrection as if it were an open question, nor as if it were merely his personal opinion. Instead, he clearly teaches in an Apostolic Constitution that Mary died and rose, prior to her Assumption.
So the question is, are you going to believe what the Magisterium teaches, or will you merely adhere to whatever the popular version, sometimes correct and other times incorrect, of magisterial teaching may be?