Deputy Principal - Mission & Faith

The Assumption of Mary

Last Monday 15 August was the Feast of The Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven, informally known as the Assumption.  According to the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and parts of Anglicanism, this was the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory."  In Munificentissimus Deus Pope Pius XII pointed to the Book of Genesis (3:15) as scriptural support for the dogma in terms of Mary's victory over sin and death as also reflected in 1 Corinthians 15:54: "then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory".

The earliest traditions all locate the end of Mary's life in Jerusalem.  By the 7th century a variation emerged, according to which one of the apostles, often identified as St Thomas, was not present at the death of Mary, but his late arrival precipitates a reopening of Mary's tomb, which is found to be empty except for her grave clothes. In a later tradition, Mary drops her girdle down to the apostle from heaven as testament to the event.  

Teaching of the Assumption of Mary became widespread across the Christian world, having been celebrated as early as the 5th century and having been established in the East by Emperor Maurice around AD 600.  It was celebrated in the West under Pope Sergius I in the 8th century and Pope Leo IV then confirmed the feast as official.  Theological debate about the Assumption continued, following the Reformation, climaxing in 1950 when Pope Pius XII defined it as dogma for the Catholic Church.

In Munificentissimus Deus, near the end of the review of the doctrine's history, Pope Pius XII stated : "All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation.", precedent to this, he cited many passages that have been offered in support of this teaching.

The pope cited 1st Corinthians 15. In this passage Paul alludes to Genesis 3:15 (in addition to the primary reference of Psalms 8:6), where it is prophesied that the seed of the woman will crush Satan with his feet. Since, then, Jesus arose to Heaven to fulfill this prophecy, it follows that the woman would have a similar end, since she shared this enmity with Satan.

The pope also mentioned Psalm 132, a psalm commemorating the return of the Ark of God to Jerusalem and lamenting its subsequent loss.  The second half of the psalm says that the loss will be recompensed in the New Covenant, and so it is hopefully prayed, "Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place: thou and the ark, which thou hast sanctified" (v. 8). Since the Church sees this New Covenant ark in Mary, it understands that she was taken into Heaven in the same manner as the Lord – that is, body and soul.

Finally, he mentioned in the next paragraph "that woman clothed with the sun [Revelation 12:1–2] whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos" as support for the doctrine.

The Assumption is important to many Catholic and Orthodox Christians as the Virgin Mary's heavenly birthday (the day that Mary was received into Heaven).  Her acceptance into the glory of Heaven is seen by them as the symbol of the promise made by Jesus to all enduring Christians that they too will be received into paradise.