Feast of the Assumption

Q280: Was Mary really assumed body and soul into heaven?

On one of my educational trips to Israel when I was a tour host, we made the usual stop at one of the sites purported to be the location where Mary’s body was assumed into heaven. It is now called the Church of the Dormition. The official Guide was a Palestinian Catholic, and he said (and I quote): “This is where Mary went to sleep, and was assumed into heaven without dying. That is what the Church teaches, right?”. Immediately I said, “No, it is not what the Church teaches.” The Guide changed the subject right away, and I didn’t pursue it or he would have been embarrassed — something you don’t want to do to people in that culture.

Which leaves the question: did Mary really die? Most of the Early Church Fathers believe that Mary did die. The Eastern Church has long held the view that Mary died. The exact location is not known. There is a tradition that she died in Ephesus at John’s house. There is another tradition that she died in Jerusalem. But there is no gravesite or tomb to support anyone’s claim. (By the way, Pope John Paul II sided with those who believe that Mary died.)

She shared our human condition, as did her Son Jesus. She shared in the agony of his Cross. And I believe she shared in his death, by dying and thereby experiencing all that we humans experience (except sin, through a special grace).

There are theologians who believe that Mary did not die, but merely went to sleep (which is what “Dormition” means, in Eastern usage). Then she simply disappeared, which is the mystery of the Assumption for them. It is an unresolved issue despite the authority of the Early Church Fathers and the medieval theologians who believe she died. The only point that matters is that whether we die or not, we all need a transformed body for our life in heaven. St. Paul teaches us that (in 1 Cor 15:51-53). Mary needed that transformed body also.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Quoting Ecumenical Council Vatican II, in its document Lumen Gentium (#59), our Catechism very simply states the official dogmatic teaching of the Church: “the Immaculate Virgin, preserved from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul in to heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things…” (CCC #966).

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Q593: Could you explain what the Church teaches about the Assumption of Mary?

During the Ecumenical Council of Vatican II in 1964, the Catholic Church taught us that “the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all guilt of original sin, on the completion of her earthly sojourn, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory” [Lumen Gentium, 59], meaning that Mary was assumed into heaven. Or as the definitive 1950 dogma says, “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” [Munificentissimus Deus, 44].

The Gospel selection today focuses on Mary’s visit to help her cousin Elizabeth in her time of need. In the same way, Mary is eager to come to our aid when we ask her. Her history of loving intercession for those who ask is well known to Catholics, and the truth of and belief in her assistance on our behalf is enshrined in the wonderful prayer of petition we pray every morning, “The Memorare” [“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary…”].

There are many lessons we can learn from Mary in today’s Gospel. We need to imitate her humility and gentle spirit, a combination that leads to total, unconditional trust in the Lord and his providence. It is revealed truth that Jesus is the one who saves us. But the Church also recognizes Mary’s role in the plan of salvation, since her “yes” gave birth to the realization and fulfillment of God’s plan. Furthermore, scripture reveals to us how Mary prays and intercedes in faith, including practical matters – e.g., the wedding at Cana (CCC 2618-19). Accordingly, with the entire Church we honor Mary for her intercession and for her assumption into eternal glory.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Our Catechism teaches us that the Assumption of Mary is an anticipation of our own resurrection (CCC 966). We do not worship Mary, but pay special honor and devotion to her as the Mother of God (CCC 971).

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My Soul Magnifies the Lord

Today we celebrate God’s gift to Mary — her glorious share n her son’s resurrection. In the Gospel reading Elizabeth cries our, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” The Assumption is the ultimate blessing given to Mary, and not to Mary only, but to all of us who will follow her into the presence of God. In today’s selection from the Visitation of Mary she and Elizabeth praise God for his gifts. We too come together to give thanks and praise to God for what he has done through Mary. But what about God’s gifts to us? For what do we give thanks? Are we really aware of God’s actions in our lives? Do we make the words of Mary and Elizabeth our prayer of praise to the God who has done great things for us?

Lord, God, Creator of all we thank you for giving us Mary as the model of the Christian disciple. Lead us to recognize your hand in all that we have and are. Together with Mary and all the saints let us praise you for your love and generosity now and for ever more.

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