The Assumption of Mary into Heaven: “This daughter of Jerusalem is lovely and beautiful as she ascends to heaven like the rising sun at daybreak” (The Divine Office, morning prayer, Antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah, the solemnity of the Assumption).
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
15 August 2009
The sweet Virgin cooperated with God’s rich mercy, thus the Savior was brought into the world, borne from her pure and holy womb, that we might have everlasting life in heavenly glory. “But God is rich in mercy; because of his great love for us he brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in sin. By this favor you were saved” (Eph 2:4).
In the O.T., we see the Ark is a type of Mary. God kept the Ark free from all corruption, profanation and defect because it carried his written word. All the more so, as Mary carried God’s living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ in her womb, she too would be kept free from all bodily corruption.
On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of Mary’s Assumption: “Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven” (Munificentissimus Deus).
Note that the doctrine of the Assumption is silent as to whether Mary died. While it speaks about her remaining free from corruption, being assumed body and soul into heavenly glory, it does not define whether Mary experienced physical death.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death” (LG 59). The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians (CCC 966).
Also, note that we distinguish Christ’s Ascension from Mary’s Assumption. Christ ascended into heaven by his own power; Mary is assumed (drawn up into) heaven by God.
a) There is no basis for the Assumption in Scripture.
That is incorrect. Elijah and Enoch were assumed into heaven (2 Kings 2:11; Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5). Note: the word “heaven” is often used in OT language in a figurative sense. As it is used here, it may not mean access to the direct face-to-face vision of God, since the gates of heaven remained closed until Christ’s act of redemption completed through his saving passion, death, and resurrection.
b) For the Assumption to occur, Mary’s body must be first glorified, but that can’t happen until the end of time when the general judgment and resurrection take place. The Assumption contradicts Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, where he teaches that our bodies cannot enter heaven in their present state; we must first be glorified in order to enter heaven.
There are exceptions. Elijah was assumed into heaven with his body prior to his experiencing physical death; therefore, God glorified him before the end of time (see 2 Kings 2:11). Enoch was also taken into heaven without dying (Gn 5:24; Heb 11:5). Both these instances occurred prior to the end of time.
St. Matthew tells us that after Jesus died the gates of heaven were opened, and many bodies of Old Testament saints were resurrected (27:53). The early Church Fathers taught that these saints’ bodies were accompanied by their souls into heaven.
Certainly, these same privileges were given to Christ’s pure and holy Mother.
Pope Pius XII tells us that the assumption of Mary is familiar and accepted by the early Church Fathers:
In their homilies and sermons on this feast the holy fathers and great doctors spoke of the assumption of the Mother of God as something already familiar and accepted by the faithful. . . . Above all, they brought out more clearly the fact that what is commemorated in this feast is not simply the total absence of corruption from the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary but also her triumph over death and her glorification in heaven, after the pattern set by her only Son, Jesus Christ. (From the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus (1950), by Pope Pius XII)
The Assumption Was Held By Early Christians
St. Gregory of Tours, in Eight Books of Miracles (575–593), writes:
The course of this life having been completed by the Blessed Mary, when now she would be called from the world, all the Apostles came together from their various regions to her house. And when they had heard that she was about to be taken from the world, they kept watch together with her. And behold, the Lord Jesus came with His angels, and taking her soul, He gave it over to the Angel Michael and withdrew. At daybreak, however, the Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise. (1, 4; Jurgens, Vol. 3, n. 2390)
St. John Damascene, who died in 749, relates the assumption of the Mother of God with her gifts and privileges:
It was necessary that she who had preserved her virginity inviolate in childbirth should also have her body kept free from all corruption after death. It was necessary that she who had carried the Creator as a child on her breast should dwell in the tabernacles of God. It was necessary that the bride espoused by the Father should make her home in the bridal chambers of heaven. It was necessary that she, who had gazed on her crucified Son and been pierced in the heart by the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in giving him birth, should contemplate him seated with the Father. It was necessary that the Mother of God should share the possessions of her Son, and be venerated by every creature as the Mother and handmaid of God.
In his Second Homily on the Dormition of Mary, St. Damascene writes:
Struck by the wonder of the mystery they could only think that He who had been pleased to become incarnate from her in His own Person and to become Man and to be born in the flesh, God the Word, the Lord of Glory, who preserved her virginity intact after parturition [giving birth], – He was pleased even after her departure from life to honor her immaculate and undefiled body with incorruption and with translation [assumption] prior to the common and universal resurrection. (10, 18; Jurgens, Vol 3, n. 2390)
St. Germanus of Constantinople wrote:
In the words of Scripture, you appear in beauty, your virginal body is entirely holy, entirely chaste, entirely the house of God, so that for this reason also it is henceforth a stranger to decay: a body changed, because a human body, to a preeminent life of incorruptibility, but still a living body, excelling in splendor, a body inviolate and sharing in the perfection of life.
Pope Pius XII continues:
Hence, the August Mother of God, mysteriously united from all eternity with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a virgin inviolate in her divine motherhood, the wholehearted companion of the divine Redeemer who won complete victory over sin and its consequences, gained at last the supreme crown of her privileges – to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and, like her Son, when death had been conquered, to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven, there to sit in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the ages. (Ibid.)
Photo Credit: Guido Reni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.