Assumption of the Blessed 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.
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.