The Assumption of Mary


1. What is the Assumption of Mary?

The Assumption of Mary is the doctrine that Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven either shortly after she died, or shortly before, and that she now lives there united with Christ and the Saints.

2. Why do Catholics believe in the Assumption of Mary?

Because we believe in the work and mission of the Redeemer, which was to destroy death and restore life, and which Mary participated in most fully. She was the associate of the redeemer: she was, with Her son, the "enemy of Satan" and his works, promised in Genesis 3:15; and the opener of hearts, with her Son, so that we may be open to grace (Luke 2:34-35). In Luke 2:34-35, Mary shared in her soul the death-defeating sufferings of her Son. And so Mary cannot be held by that death over which she shared the victory. We have to believe in the Assumption because we believe in the Redemption -- the Assumption is stamped with the image of what it means that Jesus has redeemed us.

We also believe in the Assumption because we believe in the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is similar to the Assumption in that it arises from Mary's connection to the redemption, which destroyed both sin (immaculate conception) and death (assumption). Also, if Mary was immaculately conceived, as she was, then what was there to keep her in the grave? Death is the wages of sin, which Mary had not; and so death could certainly not keep her who had no connection to it. And, Mary's Immaculate Conception and complete holiness was the gift that made her "most blessed of all women," since it means being in Christ Jesus and connected to Him. But God's greatest gift is also release from death, since union with Him is union with life itself; and so the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are connected in this way also: they are both the highest gift or blessing God could give a person, and we know that Mary was the highest blessed of all people from Luke 1:42.

3. Where in the Bible is the Assumption of Mary?

Every passage that teaches the Redemption and Mary's part in it implies the Assumption. And Revelation 12:1 gives us an image of it in the woman whom John saw in heaven with the baby Jesus. In the Old Testament, the Assumption of Mary into heaven is foreshadowed in the moving of the Ark of the Covenant into the Jewish Temple (2 Chronicles 15), and also, by teaching Mary's Immaculate Conception, the Bible supplies us with all the material we need to know the Assumption, for the two doctrines proceed on identical grounds and point to one another being true.

4. The Ark of the Covenant being moved to the Temple has nothing to do with Mary being assumed to heaven.

But it does, because the Ark of the Covenant was the vessel in which God dwelt among men in the Old Covenant, and Mary is the vessel through which God came to earth in the New Testament. He came to them through an Ark, and He came to us through Mary. A parallel like that is already an example of and a proof that the Ark is an image of Mary's role and mission. When it was moved into the Temple of Israel, which is an image of heaven, what does that foreshadow? Something messianic, something that is part of the New Testament -- Mary's Assumption into heaven. The Ark was carried into the Temple to abide with God because God first abided in it; it was given a glorious place to end its days because it started them with a glorious mission. And just the same, God took Mary's flesh to abide with Him in heaven because He first abided in her flesh when He came to earth as man, and gave her a glorious end in heaven because of the glorious mission she was made for on earth, of bringing the Redeemer to the planet. For all these reasons we know that the Ark was a type of Mary. It is no wonder, then, that they were seen side-by-side in the Book of Revelation's picture of heaven: compare Revelation 11:19 and Revelation 12:1, which are right next to each other in the Bible, and where as soon as heaven is opened the writer says he saw, first, the Ark of the Covenant, with flashes of lightning and thunder, and right afterwards a woman, Mary the Mother of God, with the sun as her cloak and the moon as her footstool. This parallel vision indicates that the two are connected, the Ark and the Woman; it indicates that they are part of the same mystery: God dwelling with man exalts the Ark and the Woman to heaven because they were the instruments He used for dwelling among men, the great wonder of salvation history.

5. Revelation 12:1 isn't about Mary. It's about the Church or Israel.

It is certainly an image of Mary. Verse 2 clearly indicates that she was seen as pregnant with Jesus, and there is no way the author could write that without having Mary in mind. All of the other figures in Revelation 12 are real people: the dragon is Satan, the child is Jesus, and the archangel is Michael; it would be inconsistent if the other figure in the story, the woman, was only a metaphor for a people or a tribe.

However I do admit that this passage is *about* the early Church, and the dragon persuing the woman represents a persecution of the early Church. But how did the early Church start? With the birth of Jesus from a woman, Mary -- and that's why this passage starts with that event. Mary is the woman in verses 1-2, and fittingly the same figure represents the Church in the rest of the chapter, because the Church is like Mary. But the woman certainly represents Mary first and foremost, and portrays her as assumed into -- and living in -- heaven.

6. John saw other people in heaven too, but they weren't *assumed* there. So it doesn't prove anything.

The other people John saw aren't like the woman, wrapped in the sun with a crown on her head and the moon under her feet. Other people he saw were only present in their souls: "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God." (Rev. 6:9) "I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God...they lived and reigned with Christ..." (Rev. 20:4) Mary appears splendorously arrayed in her complete nature, both body and soul.

7. Anyway, you can't just make up a doctrine out of one passage of the Bible. Especially one so confusing.

We didn't make up this doctrine, we've received it from the Church Fathers, who can only have gotten it from the Apostles -- not to mention that it appears in the Bible itself. But the witness of the Church Fathers is clear: the Feast of the Assumption was one of the first feast days held in honor of Mary, and some of the oldest Christian churches in existence commemorate her passing into heaven. Writings from as far back as the third and fourth centuries speak of her bodily Assumption into heaven, and before that we find clear statements that Mary defeated death and her flesh was not corrupted. That is a lot of evidence to go on when we proclaim that this doctrine is true -- and we know that the Church did not err in making the Assumption a doctrine, because the Church has the gift of infallibility preventing it from teaching falsehood.

8. I heard that the idea of the Assumption comes from Apocryphal gospels that were rejected from the Bible.

There are some apocryphal stories that mention the Assumption, but that is not where the doctrine comes from. It is found in the Bible, first of all, especially in the Book of Revelation, and that was written many years before the apocryphal gospels came out. What the apocryphal gospels do is, they take the story of Mary's Assumption and re-tell it, and some of them were written by faithful Christians and some by heretics, but they all agree that the Assumption happened. It wasn't in dispute whether Mary was taken body and soul into heaven; what the Apocryphal gospels disagree on is when, where, and did anybody see it happen.

9. How can you say Mary's Assumption is essential doctrine? For the first 300 years of Christianity, no one had heard about it.

People had heard about it, but the Christians who wrote about their faith in that time were ordinarily concerned with defending and explaining the doctrines about Christ and the Trinity, and therefore "apologetics" material -- rather than material about Mary -- comprises the vast majority of the writings that have survived from that age. If there were any stories of Mary's life and end, few have survived or been discovered other than the early Protoevangelium of James, which tells about Mary's birth and life up to her virginal conception. Early testimony about Mary therefore comes not so much from biographies of her, but from the "apologetics" material where she is mentioned and praised often for her role in salvation history -- not for her later life and end.

Nevertheless, through that information we get much theological data that supports the doctrine of the Assumption: St. Irenaeus said that Mary by consenting to bear the child Jesus helped release us from death. From this our doctrine bubbles up like a spring: if she had a part in death's defeat, then she certainly cannot be held by it. St. Hippolytus said she was "exempt from putridity and corruption," which means she is not decomposing as she would be if she was dead and buried on earth. We know that the tombs where she was supposedly laid are empty, which matches the early stories which say she died and was assumed into heaven shortly after being laid in a tomb; and the early Church evidence of her empty tombs also supports the Assumption.

But besides all of this, the best evidence concerning Mary's Assumption in the early Church is this: no one back then claimed to have her body. Saints who died back then were enviously coveted, and their bones were enshrined in homes and churches for special veneration. Mary would have been the most precious possession, but there are absolutely no claims to her body, and zero churches were erected over her remains for special reverence. The Church Fathers are absolutely silent about Mary's relics because we know there were none: she was totally assumed into heaven and is bodily present with God and the Saints.

10. The first Christian to write about Mary's end lived in 400 AD. And he didn't know what happened to her!

You mean St. Epiphanius of Salamis, who wrote about Mary's end in about 377 A.D. It is true that he said he did not know what happened to Mary after the crucifixion of Jesus, but he did know of the Assumption doctrine, because he explicitly states it. "If she was slain," he says, "her blessed body...dwells among those who enjoy the repose of the blessed." "Or she continued to live," immortally. (That possibility also indicates her Assumption, since she is clearly not on earth today.) The idea that he didn't know the Assumption doctrine is false, but it comes from the fact that at one point he mentions the possibility that "the holy Virgin [may have] died...[and] been buried." However, he does not there say anything against the Assumption, for it is distinctly possible that she died and was buried before being raised up and assumed into heaven, as the oldest stories testify. And so, contrary to what some commentators say, Ephiphanius is no support for Protestantism's rejection of the Assumption doctrine. Rather he supports it and gives the earliest known explicit testimony to it among the Church fathers.