Today, we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this feast, we recognize the Church teaching that after her earthly life was over, Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven by virtue of her sinless nature. In September and October of 2020, I wrote a 5-part series on the Marian dogmas and doctrines taught by the Magisterium, with the Assumption published on September 27, 2020.
While the doctrine of the Assumption is not explicit in scripture, there are several places in scripture where it is prefigured and foreshadowed. We’ll begin with the Old Testament. We, as Catholics, do not view the Old and New Testaments as two separate volumes that have no relation to one another. Rather, they are a cohesive unit in which the Old prefigures the New and the New fulfills the Old. There are two instances in the Old Testament where God elected to make an exception for two men, regarding physical death, and took them – body and soul – straight to heaven because of their holiness.
The first man to receive this blessed gift was Enoch. Genesis 5:24 says, “Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him away.” In this passage, we see that Enoch was physically present in one moment and then gone in the next. However, it is not specific as to where God had taken him. Other places in scripture provide further clarity on Enoch’s fate. Beginning with Sirach, there are two separate mentions of Enoch’s assumption into heaven. “Enoch pleased the Lord and was taken up; he was an example of repentance to all generations” (Sirach 44:16) and “No one like Enoch has been created on earth, for he was taken up from the earth” (Sirach 49:14). In both of these verses we see that Enoch physically ascends from the earth and that God wills this for him, particularly as an exception to the typical human experience of death as the result of original sin. Further, in the New Testament, we have even further clarification regarding the end of Enoch’s earthly life. “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him” (Hebrews 11:5). Again, St. Paul conveys to us the reward of a bodily assumption into heaven by virtue of the man’s holiness.
The second man in the Old Testament to be assumed bodily into heaven was Elijah. Elijah and Elisha were walking along together, “And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11). Later, in 1 Maccabees 2:50, we are reminded of the gift Elijah received due to his holiness: “Elijah, because of his great zeal for the law, was taken up into heaven.” These two men from the Old Testament prefigure the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If God has clearly set the precedent that He takes particularly faithful and holy people to heaven in their physical bodies, it is not a far stretch to understand that He would offer that same gift to the Blessed Mother of God, who gave her perfect ascent to His will.
Now, moving on to the New Testament, we see several instances of foreshadowing as the description of Mary “going up” in her physical body is a consistent theme throughout her presence in scripture. The first instance of Mary going up is shortly after she conceived Jesus. Luke tells us, “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered into the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39). So, right away we see Mary going up into the hills to tend to her pregnant cousin.
While Mary was pregnant, a census was called, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4). Of course, since Mary was with her husband for the journey, she too “went up” to Bethlehem. Following the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt to hide from the wrath of Herod. “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel’…and he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel” (Matt 2:19-22). With Israel being geographically North of Egypt, we see a figurative description of Mary “going up” with her family. In Luke’s Gospel, we also see Mary going up when she, along with Joseph, presented Jesus in the temple. “…they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22). Further still, as they were raising Jesus, Mary and Joseph would take Jesus to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Passover, “And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to the custom” (Luke 2:41). Again, we see Mary going up when she ascended Calvary with her Son for His crucifixion: “but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother” (John 19:25). Finally, Mary was in the upper room with the Apostles as they awaited the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, “And when they had entered they went up to the upper room…together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” (Acts 1:13-14). With all of these examples, we can clearly see Mary in the act of ascending and, since all Scripture is inspired by God Himself, the theme is intentional.
In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we have one final image of Mary: “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” (Rev 12:1). Due to Revelation’s abstract nature, not all Christian denominations have interpreted that the woman is Mary. However, in light of all of the context regarding the bodily assumption of Old Testament figures, Mary’s unique virtue and holiness, and the New Testament fulfilling what has been foretold in the Old, it is a natural progression for the Catholic Church to teach that the woman of Revelation is, in fact, the body and soul of Mary assumed into heaven.
Reflect on the beautiful cohesiveness contained in Scripture as it reveals God’s plan for mankind. How can you imitate the Assumption of Mary, Enoch, and Elijah by giving your assent to the will of God in all things? How can you “go up” even further toward the Lord in heaven?
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