The Assumption Of The Virgin Mary
What does the Church teach about the assumption of Mary? Let us begin by considering a few key points.
First, in discussing the assumption, the Church affirms that Mary did not suffer from original sin but was conceived full of grace. According to this doctrine, known as the Immaculate Conception, God’s supernatural life dwelt in Mary from the very beginning of her existence.
This doctrine, which has its roots in early Christianity, ultimately is about the mystery of Jesus Christ. God became man in Mary’s womb. Since Jesus truly is the all-holy God, the Second Person of the Trinity, Catholics believe he is worthy to dwell in a pure vessel, a holy temple. Thus, it is fitting that God would prepare Mary as an immaculate dwelling place, full of grace and not stained by sin, for the God-man.
The annunciation scene in Luke’s Gospel points us in this direction. The angel Gabriel greets Mary with the words, “Hail, full of grace” The Greek word in Luke’s Gospel for “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) is in a perfect passive participle form, which would indicate that Mary already has been filled with God’s saving grace, even before Jesus was conceived in her womb. The Immaculate Conception will serve as a basis for understanding Mary’s assumption.
Second, the Church teaches that Mary was taken to heaven when the course of her earthly life was finished. The Church does not declare whether Mary died and then was assumed into heaven or whether she was assumed before she died. It leaves open both possibilities. However, the majority of theologians and saints throughout the centuries have affirmed that Mary did experience death—not as a penalty for sin but in conformity to her son, who willingly experienced death on our behalf.
Third, the Church affirms that Mary was taken body and soul into heavenly glory right at the end of her earthly life. One of the consequences of original sin is the corruption of the body (Genesis 3:19) says. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” If Mary was full of grace and did not suffer from original sin, it is fitting that she, like her son, would not experience such bodily corruption.
Although there are no explicit proof texts in Scripture for Mary’s assumption, some biblical themes may at least shed light on this doctrine. For example, the notion of being taken up into heaven has some precedent in Scripture. Enoch was taken into heaven without seeing death (see Hebrews 11:5), and Elijah was whisked into heaven by the chariots of fire at the end of his life (see 2 Kings 2:11). If God could assume these righteous men of the Old Testament, it is certainly possible that Jesus could assume his own mother as well.
Since one of the blessings promised to all faithful disciples is victory over death, it is fitting that Mary, who is the first and model disciple of Christ, would be the first to receive this blessing. Catholics therefore believe that the privilege of resurrection unto life in heaven promised to all faithful Christians was given first to Mary and in a totally unique way.
While the rest of us hope to have our bodies raised to glory at the end of time, Mary experienced the resurrection and glorification of her body at the moment her earthly life ended. Thus, her assumption—which flows from her unique participation in Christ’s victory as the mother of the Savior and as the first and most faithful of Christ’s followers—anticipates to some degree our own share in the fullness of that victory if we persevere as followers of Christ.
Concerning the resurrection, Saint Paul says in I Corinthians 15: 17-21, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we only have hope in this life, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man (the first Adam) came death, by a man the second Adam, Jesus) has come also the resurrection of the dead.”
Benjamin Franklin, after the signing of the Constitution of the United States. Said in part that “ In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Psychiatrists tell us that a mature person is one who has confronted the eventual reality of his own death. You and I are terminally ill. At this very moment, you are in the process of dying. It’s just a matter of time, unless perhaps Jesus Christ returns before that moment.
We run through life so fast trying to avoid thoughts of death. Death hits. You lose a loved one. You have a brief funeral Then you move on, like a vaccine for the Covid Virus, we inoculate ourselves from the ideal that we are going to die someday so that we do not feel so vulnerable. We know we’ll die. We just don’t want to think about it. We call those thoughts morbid, gloomy, dismal. Yet each of us must face the reality of our own inevitable death.
Some people have trouble confronting this reality. Occasionally a teenager fantasizes about death as a possible alternative to facing the explosive difficulties of adolescence. That’s why we’re seeing such an increase in suicide among young people.
You and I don’t like to talk about this. Few people really prepare for death. You and I live as if we will live forever. We collect material possessions as if we will carry them forever. How strange is this when one of the most certain facts about life is death. We can speed through life never giving it any thought. Momentarily, we may ponder its implications. Then, once again, we move on.
The British political leader, William Gladstone, once confronted a young man who wanted to go into law and government. The prime minister asked him what his dreams were. Bursting with ambition and energy, he replied, “First law. Then government.” Asked Gladstone, “Then what?” “Service to my nation.” “Then what?” queried Gladstone. “Perhaps fame and wealth.” “Then what?” “I guess to retire and to live on what I have made.” “Then what?” “What do you mean? I guess I’ll die.” “Then what?” was the query. There was complete silence. Then Gladstone said, “Young man, you had better go back and think life through.
Saint Paul refuses to back off from this tough topic. 1 Corinthians 15, is as straightforward a confrontation with this theme as you will find in any literature. Last week we observed this straightforward declaration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Now Paul moves on to talk about you and me and what happens to us. Whereas to this point he has declared the resurrection of Jesus Christ, now he declares the resurrection of the dead.
First, Paul states seven facts you and I must confront if there is no resurrection.
Fact #1: Christ has not been raised.
He writes, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. . .” (1 Corinthians 15:13). and Mary was never assumed in to heaven.
Fact #2: The teaching on the assumption of Mary is in vain.
The other religions of the world are not based on the resurrection of their founder. The other major religions of the world do not claim that their founder is God. Central to the Christian faith is the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If in fact He did not rise from the dead we have removed the assumption of Mary and she is still in the grave.
Fact #3: Our faith doesn’t do what we thought it would do.
Paul writes: “. . . and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). On another occasion, he referred to “knowing him and the power of his resurrection.” It is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are empowered for change. We turn from darkness to light. If there was no resurrection, there is no change.
Fact #4: We are all liars.
We are in real trouble if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Not only is our faith in vain, but Paul writes, “We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ – whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised”
Fact #5: We are still in our sins and, concerning Mary, there would have been no Immaculate Conception.
Fact #6: Dead believers have perished.
Not only does this have implications for us, it has horrendous significance for all those who have believed in Jesus Christ during the last two thousand years. Paul writes, “Then those also who have died in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:18). The dead believers are gone. They, along with Mary are finished as we will be someday.
Fact #7: We Catholics are pathetic persons.
Paul concludes this part of his argument stating, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The Assumption of Mary means nothing if Christ did not rise from the dead. It never could have happened.
If the resurrection of Christ did not happen, then not only did Pope Pius the 12th declared a false dogma when he said, “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 to heavenly glory.”, It made him an heretic and thus no longer the Pope of the Church.
These implications are severe. Refute the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the logical conclusion is the Christian faith has lost its foundation.
Getting back to the assumption of Mary. Like the Resurrection of Christ, Mary’s assumption offers us hope in the midst of our trials in this “valley of tears.” This is the hope that God will carry us through our distress and lift up our heavy hearts. So take a moment right now and ask yourself, what burdens, troubles, and worries are weighing you down? How can you entrust yourself more to God’s loving care?
With whatever we’re facing in life, may we, like Mary, fall into the Father’s arms, so that we may have a more profound experience of his supporting us in our present sufferings and raising us to himself—both now and at the hour of our death.