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Dogma of The Assumption of Mary

MARIAN CORNER

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven, often shortened to the Assumption, and also known as the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary, according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, Orthodoxy, Oriental, and parts of Anglicanism, was the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life.

The 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”. This doctrine was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus by exercising papal infallibility. While the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church believe in the Dormition of the Theotokos, which is the same as the Assumption, the alleged physical death of Mary has not been dogmatically defined.

In Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII pointed to the Book of Genesis 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”. In the churches that observe it, the Assumption is a major feast day, commonly celebrated on August 15. In many countries the feast is also marked as a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Catholic Church and as a Festival in the Anglican Communion.

Although the Assumption was only relatively recently defined as infallible dogma by the Catholic Church, and in spite of a statement by Saint Epiphanius of Salamis in AD 377 that no one knew whether Mary had died or not. Apocryphal accounts of the assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since at least the 4th century. The Catholic Church itself interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to it. The earliest known narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary's Repose), which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation.

In some versions of the story the event is said to have taken place in Ephesus, in the House of the Virgin Mary, although this is a much more recent and localized tradition. 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. This incident is depicted in many later paintings of the Assumption.

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 enimity 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.

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