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“The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.” These memorable words were written by Pope Pius XII in 1950 to officially proclaim the dogma we know as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Though the Holy Father’s formal proclamation in Munificentissimus Deus came as recently as 1950, the Assumption has been a popularly held belief amongst Christians since ancient times. Narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries bear witness that this belief was already popularly held in the early years of Christendom.

Doctors of the Church such as Thomas Aquinas, Anthony of Padua, and Alphonsus Ligouri have all given similar explanations of the dogma. All agree that, since Mary the Mother of God was born without Original Sin and lived a sinless life “full of grace” it is only fitting that, rather than being buried in the earth until the second coming of Christ, the Blessed Virgin should be taken (or “assumed”) into Heaven, body and soul, to join her Son without having experienced any corporal corruption.

In the words of St. John Damascene, one of the earliest exponents of the Assumption, “Thy pure spotless body was not left in the earth, but the abode of the Queen, of God’s true Mother, was fixed in the Heavenly Kingdom alone.” The 8th-century saint felt it was only right that Mary, who had maintained her virginity even through the process of childbirth, should keep her body unblemished by death.

Though the Bible provides no explicit account of Mary’s Assumption, Pope John Paul II in a homily given at Lourdes in 2004 quoted John 14:3 as a scriptural basis for understanding the dogma of the Assumption of Mary: Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also.”

It is true that we don’t have any exact historical knowledge of the day, year, or manner of Our lady’s death. We do, however, have tradition. It is interesting, for example, that both Ephesus and Jerusalem claim to be the place where Mary died. According to Catholic tradition, Mary lived at Ephesus — now in modern day Turkey — after the death of her Son, although Mary’s tomb was thought to be in Jerusalem.

This tradition, immortalized in many grand works of art, instructs us that Mary died between three and 15 years after Christ’s Ascension. It is said that the Angel Gabriel was sent to warn Mary that in three days she would die and be reunited with her Son in heaven. The archangel gave her a palm, symbol of her victory over sin and death, and instructed her to carry it in her coffin.

Upon learning of her approaching death, Mary prayed that the Apostles would come so she might see them one last time. According to the ancient apocryphal text Transitus Mariae, the Apostles were miraculously transported from their various mission lands to Mary’s bedside on clouds. Then on the day of her death Jesus appeared and bore away His mother’s soul, and He returned three days later, when the angels took her body up into the Kingdom of Heaven. When her tomb was later opened it was found empty.

To the skeptics who are doubtful of tradition John Henry Newman pointedly asks, “If her body was not taken into heaven, where is it? Why are not pilgrimages made to it? Why are not relics producible of her, as of the saints in general? Plainly because that sacred body is in heaven, not on earth.” Further, it stands to reason that the Blessed Virgin Mary would follow her Son in His victory over death by Resurrection and be brought body and soul “to the highest glory of heaven, to shine as Queen at the right hand of that same Son, the immortal King of Ages.”

Protestants and others who deny the dogma of the Assumption often charge that Catholics, by believing in the Assumption of Mary are equating her with Jesus Christ and his Ascension. But the two should not be confused. The most significant difference between the Ascension and the Assumption is this: Jesus ascended into Heaven under His own power. Mary, however, was assumed (taken up) into Heaven, whether by God Himself or by His heavenly messengers.

The Assumption has been one of the most popular theological subjects of paintings and sculptures since the Renaissance. Often Mary appears as “a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with twelve stars on her head for a crown” (Rev. 12:1). One of Titian’s most renowned masterpieces is that of the Assumption. This monumental painting adorns the high altar of Santa. Maria dei Frari in Venice, a position that fully justifies the spectacular nature of the Virgin’s triumph as she ascends heavenward. Other famous paintings of the Assumption include works by Pieter Paul Rubens, El Greco, Piazzetta, Carracci, and Maulbertsch.

Along with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), the Assumption is the principle feast of the Virgin Mary – one of the most important feasts of the year and the most widely celebrated feast of Summer. August 15 is the day!


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7 Comments

  1. Martina-464542 August 4, 2009

    Very good article about our Holy Mother, The Holy Virgin
    Mary,So, please write more articles, ( I can tell that you are very knowledgeable regarding the dogma).

  2. Michelle-346850 August 4, 2009

    Thanks for the article!

  3. Ivy-330443 August 10, 2009

    Thank you for the article!

  4. Luz-459414 August 12, 2009

    Very interesting. Anything that I can learn about Mary, her personal life, her home, her childhood, her life,…it is all very interesting. But please always mention documentation…..then I can really connect.

  5. Martina-464542 August 18, 2009

    Michael,
    Thank you very much for the aticle, write more, it is beatiful
    to hear about Our Holy Mother.

  6. Shirley-473664 August 20, 2009

    thank you for the article about Blessed Mother's assumption, it is beautiful.
    shirley

  7. Juan-472853 August 22, 2009

    AMA ,HA LA VIRGEN SANTISIMA Y SERAS BENDECIDO,TU Y TODA TU FAMILIA. :rosary: :

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