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MARY'S ASSUMPTION


Definition

"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." (Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950)

How This Teaching Exalts Christ

Mary's Assumption would have been impossible without Jesus' Resurrection, for it is His resurrection power which will glorify our bodies (Philippians 3:21). This dogma depends upon and reaffirms the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Biblical Basis

This dogma is rooted in the biblical depiction of Mary as the New Eve (See the first article for the biblical basis of the New Eve). Death is the result of the Fall. If Mary is the New Eve, who shares in the New Adam's victory over sin, they she should also share in His victory over death and physical decay.

It was also not fitting that the body which was sanctified to bear God Incarnate should see corruption. So God took His New Ark into heaven. In Revelations 12:1, right after his vision of the ark of the covenant in heaven (11:19), St. John sees a great Woman: the New Eve, the Virgin Mary, Image and Model of the Church. This verse strongly insinuates the Assumption of Mary.

Early Christian Witness

That early Christian believed in Mary's Assumption is proven in the lack of her relics, empty tombs, the existence of Transitus Mariae stories, and quotes from early Christians.

The early Christians were very careful to keep the relics of saints and martyrs, even if it involved great risk (like trying to retrieve the remains of those who were eaten by lions). They did this out of great reverence for the body as a member of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit (see I Corinthians 6:15, 19).

Because Christians took care of the remains of the saints, we know where the bones of Saint Peter, Mary Magdalene and many other New Testament believers are buried. But where are the remains of the Virgin Mary? There is no record of anyone ever claiming to possess the body of the Mother of Jesus.

This would have been the most prized relic of all; the mortal remains of the Savior's closest blood relative, the very same body which had carried God Incarnate for nine months and nursed and cared for Him afterward! Yet in all of Church history, both biblical and extra-biblical, there is no record of its whereabouts, and the two tombs which are variously said to be Mary's are both empty (see discussion on "Two Tombs" below).

Though no one ever claimed to possess Mary's relics, it seems that early Christians did in fact know the whereabouts of Mary's body! St. John Damascene, a Church Father, relates an interesting historical fact in this regard:

St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.
The early Christians actually knew that something unusual and miraculous had happened to Mary's body soon after her death. This would explain why no one ever possess her mortal remains; her body is not on earth, but in heaven, glorified and united to her soul!

Early Christians expressed their belief in Mary's Assumption by writing various legendary accounts of the event to edify the faithful. These Transitus Mariae stories (as scholars call them) are pious fiction; neither inspired nor part of the Bible. Yet they are still valuable, for they attest to the fact that the Assumption was a widespread belief in the Church. Early Christians knew that God had raptured Mary into heaven, so they wrote various stories describing how it occurred.

Scholars possess numerous compies of the Transitus Mariae legends in various languages, including Syriac, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Coptic and Ethiopian. These were the major languages spoken by Christians at that time! Since these manuscripts date back to the fourth and fifth centuries, it is clear that belief in Mary's Assumption was widespread by then. This would in turn indicate that the belief originated at a much earlier date. Indeed, some scholars date one Syrian manuscript back to the third century - the 200's!

The early Church Fathers were very zealous for the faith. They strenuously fought all new heresies which threatened the Faith delivered to the Apostles. If the Assumption of Mary were a novel belief at the time, we would expect to find Christian writers of the third to fifth centuries condemning it as a newfangled heresy. Yet none do! Nowhere in the writings of the early Church Fathers do we find the slightest condemnation of this doctrine.

In fact, many Chuch Fathers positively teach the Assumption of Mary, as seen in the following quotes:

"If therefore it might come to pass before the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death does reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your mother and take her with you, rejoicing into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: 'Be it done according to your will" (Pseudo-Melito The Passing of the Virgin 16:2-17; 300 AD).

"Therefore the Virgin is immortal to this day, seeing that he who had dwelt in her transported her to the regions of her assumption" (Timothy of Jerusalem Homily on Simeon and Anna; 400 AD).

"And from that time forth all knew that the spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise" (John the Theologian, The Falling Asleep of Mary; 400 AD)

"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: where now, rejoinedd to the soul, [Mary] rejoices with the Lord's chosen ones..." (Gregory of Tours, Eight Books of Miracles, 1:4; 575-593 A.D.)

"As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by him, 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." (Modestus of Jerusalem, Encomium in dormitionnem Sanctissimae Dominae nostrae Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae (PG 86-II,3306, before A.D. 634)

"It was fitting...that the most holy-body of Mary, God-bearing body, receptacle of God, divinized, incorruptible, illuminated by divine grace and full glory...should be entrusted to the earth for a little while and raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul pleasing to God." (Theoteknos of Livias, Homily on the Assumption; before 650 A.D.)

All of these facts present strong evidence that the Assumption of Mary actually happened and that the early Christians knew about it!

Objections

  1. Catholics consider Jesus and Mary equal because they believe that both of them ascended into heaven.

    Mary did not ascend into heaven; she was assumed into heaven. Jesus ascended by His own power, Mary was taken up into heaven by God. The Assumption is essentially the same as what Evangelicals call the "rapture"; we could even say that Mary was "raptured" into heaven at the end of her life.

  2. But the Bible does not say that she was raptured into heaven.

    The Bible is also silent on how the lives of most of Jesus' disciples ended. Many Evangelicals accept the witness of Church history that Saint Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome, that Paul was beheaded, etc., even though Scripture does not record these events. Why then do they refuse to believe, as the early Christians did, that Jesus raptured Mary into heaven at the end of her life on earth?

  3. But Mary is dead.

    Where does the Bible say that? Nowhere. That's an unbiblical assertion.

  4. Do Catholics believe that Mary died?

    Some do, some don't. Scripture is silent on how Mary's life ended, and the Church has never declared whether she died and was raised or was raptured up without ever dying. So Catholics are free to believe either one.

  5. Doesn't I Corinthians 15:23 disprove the Assumption?

    Not necessarily. First of all, it refers to those who have died in Christ. If Mary did not die, then this verse would not apply to her. Second, there is a chance that Mary was still alive when Saint Paul wrote this epistle (some say she lived to the age of seventy-two!). So Paul may not have known of God's plan to rapture her up early, and since Mary herself surely did not know, it would not have been appropriate to reveal it in the Epistle.

  6. The fact that there are two tombs believed to be Mary's shows that no one really knows where she is buried. Maybe her real tomb is elsewhere - and not vacant!

    Seems I've heard a similar argument before regarding Jesus' resurrection - the "wrong tomb" theory. (Incidentally, there are also two tombs in the Holy Land believed to be those of Christ: the one at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the "Garden Tomb".) Strange how some Evangelical arguments against Mary actually parallel arguments used by skeptics against Jesus.

    The argument is pure speculation. The fact remains that all these tombs are empty, and that no one ever claimed to have Mary's relics. Though not a conclusive proof of Mary's Assumption, it does point in that direction.

  7. Why would God take Mary into heaven like that?

    Why not? He took Enoch and Elijah into heaven without them ever tasting death (2 Kings 2:11; Hebrews 11:5); he raised many righteous Jews from the dead at Jesus' resurrection (Mt 27:52-53), and He has promised to rapture up both living and dead believers at the end of time (1 Thess 4:16-17). Why wouldn't Jesus do the same for His Mother, the woman whom He is bound to honor by His own Law? As we have seen, Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. Why would God allow this sacred Ark to rot in the grave? It is not fitting that the body which was sanctified to bear God Incarnate should see corruption. So God took the New Ark into heaven, where we see her in Revelations 11:19-12:1.


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