Catholicism Explained - the Assumption
Our discussion about Marian Dogmas is almost at an end - we've discussed the first three and are about to launch into the fourth, the Assumption.
So far, our Catholicism Explained posts have covered:
The Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception
What the Assumption Is
What is the doctrine of the Assumption? Basically, it's the belief that, at the end of Mary's life, God took Mary's body into Heaven along with her soul.
"'Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.' The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:
In giving birth you kept your virginity;
in your Dormition you did not leave the world,
O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life.
You conceived the living God and, by your prayers,
will deliver our souls from death."
- CCC 966
What the Assumption Is Not
While the pictures of Mary's assumption and Jesus' ascension are certainly similar, there is a big difference between the Assumption and the Ascension: Mary did not ascend into Heaven on her own power. Jesus did.
Jesus rose into Heaven; Mary was taken into Heaven.
As always, Jesus is active and Mary is passive. God is the source of all greatness and grace; Mary accepts His gifts, as all of us are called to do.
Evidence for the Assumption
As with Mary's perpetual virginity, there is not much said in Scripture regarding the Assumption. The event is not recorded in the Bible; rather, we know it happened based on Sacred Tradition (the non-written kind).
This article on the Assumption states,
"That belief was ancient, dating back to the apostles themselves. What was clear from the beginning was that there were no relics of Mary to be venerated, and that an empty tomb stood on the edge of Jerusalem near the site of her death. That location also soon became a place of pilgrimage. (Today, the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition of Mary stands on the spot.)"
Those two words "no relics" are very significant. Relics were very important in the early Church; Christians would go through great lengths to gather the remains of Apostles and martyrs, and these relics were cherished as great treasures. The greater the saint, the more prized the relic.
Since Mary is the greatest of saints, her relics would be prized above all others, even those of the Apostles. But while the relics of the Apostles and early martyrs were so jealously guarded that they can be seen even today, Mary's relics are nowhere to be found.
No bones. No hair. No teeth.
There's something mysterious about that.
Why Did God Take Mary's Body Into Heaven?
God's ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts; but His taking His Mother into Heaven body and soul is understandable even to our human brains. As this simple little poem by John Bannister Tabb states,
"Nor Bethlehem nor Nazareth
Apart from Mary's care;
Nor Heaven itself a home for Him
Were not His Mother there."
There are deeper theological explanations for why Mary was given the privilege of being assumed into Heaven. One of the most foremost states that since Mary was God's mother, since she had carried the God-Man in her womb and never been defiled by any sin, it would have been unfitting for her to be touched by the decay of death.
(I wonder - and this is my own personal conjecture, I'm not sure if there's an official teaching on this - I wonder if Mary could have decayed. Since God had saved from Original Sin through the Immaculate Conception, she was exempt from all the effects of sin, and "the wages of sin is death." But anyway. That's just me thinking.)
God always rewards His servants magnanimously. Letting Mary be resurrected, in a sense, before anyone else, was His reward to her for a lifetime of perfect service to Him.
Was Mary the Only One Assumed?
I've heard a couple different opinions on this and thought I'd throw it into this post.
Some people think Mary was not the only one upon whom God conferred the grace of assumption. It's been said that Elijah also was assumed - we know that he was "taken up in a fiery chariot." There is also conjecture that Enoch, who is said to have "walked with God" in Genesis 5:24, did not die but was taken directly to Heaven.
I've heard that from a couple different places. If it were so, then the Assumption of Mary would not be such an isolated instance, and it could be argued, "If God took the imperfect prophet Elijah into Heaven body and soul, then why not His sinless mother?"
But then I've also read something saying, "Mary was the only one God took into Heaven body and soul." According to that article (I think it was in Catholic Answers magazine), neither Elijah nor Enoch was taken bodily into Heaven (Elijah, this author said, was not transported to Heaven in the fiery chariot but only to another place on earth).
Anyway. I don't know if there is a definite teaching on this, or if it's one of those things that has to be clarified yet. And I don't want to put forth heretical teachings on this blog. So I'm just throwing it out there. :)
Because God willed Mary to be the Mother of God, He bestowed on her great graces - the Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity, and bodily assumption into Heaven. The generosity with which He lavishes graces on Mary is an example of His supreme goodness. While Scripture does not explicitly state that Mary was assumed into Heaven, Tradition has always understood that to be the case, and the idea of God granting great graces to His faithful ones is very in line with Biblical teaching.
So that's that for today! What do you think? Questions? Comments? Concerns?
And now that we've reached the end of Marian Dogmas, do you have any suggestions for the next Catholicism Explained post?