We have now reached the fourth and final Marian Dogma as defined and taught by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church – the Assumption of Mary. In a sense, the Assumption is the natural culmination of the previous three dogmas. If you accept, as the Church teaches, that Mary is the Mother of God, that she kept her virginal purity and integrity intact, and that she is the Immaculate Conception, the dogma on the Assumption is nothing less than fitting.
On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the fourth Marian dogma in his document Munificentissimus Deus. In this document, Pope Pius says, “We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that 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.” In other words, Mary is currently enjoying her bodily resurrection in heaven with Jesus, which is what we all look forward to one day. As with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius refers to Genesis 3:15 as part of the foundation for the Assumption. In Genesis, Satan and his seed are put in direct opposition to the woman and her seed. Again, if Satan brings about sin and death, then to be in direct opposition to that necessarily means no sin and no death. Mary and Jesus must triumph over death.
Remember last week when we talked about how Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28, two examples of where Mary is called “full of grace,” are good scriptural foundations for the Immaculate Conception? By virtue of the Immaculate Conception, Mary remained free from the stain of original sin and its effects. She was able to maintain the preternatural gifts that were given to Adam and Eve, which they had lost for all future generations. Recall the preternatural gifts are: infused knowledge of God and divine mysteries; absence of concupiscence through a balance of passions, intellect, and will; and bodily immortality free from corruption. If Mary maintained the gift of bodily immortality from her conception, her body must have been assumed and glorified in heaven, where it exists to this day. It is the only acceptable and natural conclusion to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
There are other places in Scripture where we can find clues to Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven. Psalm 132:8 says, “Arise, Oh Lord, to your resting place. You and the Ark which you have sanctified.” The first sentence in that statement foreshadows the ascension of Jesus Christ. The second sentence of the verse refers to the Ark in which he was carried, which was Mary, His mother. Mary physically follows Jesus to their final resting place in heaven. There is a distinction to be made here, in that Jesus ascends by His own power, whereas Mary’s assumption is passive and a privilege she receives, proper to her other gifts. God is still God and Mary is not in control of her own ascension, which is yet another indication of how what happens to her points to and glorifies her Son and not herself.
We also have Revelations 11:19, where we see the Ark of the Covenant in the heavenly Jerusalem. This vision of the Ark is immediately followed by Revelations 12:1, which reads, “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” These two verses in immediate succession suggests a connection between the Ark and the woman, both representing Mary, the woman who carried God within her and therefore merited her place in heaven.
We have one other insight into Mary’s assumption, and although it is not explicitly stated, it is not a far stretch to imagine. We believe Jesus to have been perfect, to have been a good practicing Jewish man, and to have been perfectly abiding in God’s law. Therefore, Jesus would have perfectly followed the Fourth Commandment to “Honor thy father and mother.” He had already sanctified her womb and body by dwelling in it and she had been present for His passion and crucifixion, standing at the foot of His cross when He died. What better way could He honor her than to not allow her body to suffer corruption, but rather to glorify her body with His in heaven?
Of course, as always, we should also look to early Christianity for their understanding of what happened to Mary after her earthly life was over.
“The Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, she rejoices with the Lord’s chosen ones.” – Gregory of Tours, Book of Miracles, 1:4 (d. 593 AD)
“You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.” – St. Germanus of
Constantinople, In Sanctae Dei Genetricis Dormitionem, Sermon I. (d. 730 AD)
“Your stainless and wholly immaculate body has not been left on earth; the Queen, the Mistress, the Mother of God who has truly given birth to God has been translated to the royal palaces of heaven.” – St. John Damascene in a homily (d. 749 AD)
Now, we know that Mary’s body was assumed into heaven because it was fitting, given what is true about her and what is true about her Son. What we can’t know for certain is whether or not Mary actually died. There are two primary theories on this issue – mortalists and immortalists – and it is left to the individual to decide. The mortalists hold that Mary died and experienced a temporary separation of body and soul, as Jesus did, in discipleship of Him. To be clear, she would not have died by disease or corruption of the body, due to her immaculate conception, rather she would have died peacefully. Her soul was then reunited with her body in heaven after a short period of time. The immortalist position holds that Mary did not die, but at an appointed time was assumed by God into heaven, body and soul at the same time. The answer to this question is not imperative to belief in the dogma, since she was assumed either way. That being said, the vast majority of Catholic theologians hold the mortalist theory. However, you are free to contemplate the question yourself and come to your own conclusion about what might have happened. The answer awaits you in heaven!
One of the great things the Assumption of Mary does for us is it illustrates the future that awaits every body and soul. After the second coming of Jesus, all of our bodies will be resurrected and re-unified with our souls. This week, contemplate what heaven might be like in your soul only and then contemplate what it might be like when your body returns with all of your senses. Think about how Mary is enjoying that reality now through the privilege her Son has given to her because of her perfection and sanctification, which came about through Him. Every little thing about Mary reflects back the glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
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