In the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, sits an ancient church. As you enter through a 12th-century façade built by the Crusaders, the smell of incense fills the air. You continue, descending roughly 50 steps into a millennia-old crypt. It’s empty.
Tradition holds that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was Assumed, or taken up into heaven, in this spot. Today, it’s called the “Tomb” of the Virgin Mary and is believed by many to be the place of Mary’s Assumption.
No one can say for certain where Mary was Assumed, but, since 1950, the Catholic Church teaches as dogma that,
“The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was completed, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven, where she already shares in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all members of his Body” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 974).
What is the Assumption?
As the Catechism quotes above, the Assumption is the taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. Due to her sinless state and close link with her son Jesus, God takes her up into heaven, body and soul, all at once.
The Catholic Church leaves open whether or not Mary physically died and then was Assumed, or if she was Assumed while still alive (The Eastern Orthodox Church believes in the former, known as the Dormition of Mary).
Regardless of how she was Assumed, Catholics are required to believe that she was, indeed, taken up.
Is the Assumption in the Bible?
Although the Assumption of Mary is not explicitly described in the Bible, the Catholic Church has interpreted various passages as hinting at this miraculous event.
We know Mary is described as being “full of grace.” That’s a significant title because it means she was born without original sin. You cannot be full of God’s grace and have sin. The two are incompatible.
Thus, being born without original sin, Mary would be exempt from the punishment of death God imposed on Adam and Eve. She could therefore be directly Assumed into heaven, body and soul.
Also, consider Psalm 131:8: “Arise, LORD, come to your resting place, you and your mighty ark.” Mary is often seen as the human Ark of the Covenant of the New Testament because her womb carried Jesus. Under that interpretation, Mary, as the ark, would “arise” to her resting place in heaven.
Furthermore, in Revelation 12:1, a woman is described as being “clothed with the sun.” This passage is typically believed to be referring to Mary. That she is clothed with the sun is evidence for her special place in heaven.
Ultimately, the Catholic Church doesn’t solely rely on Sacred Scripture to justify the Assumption. The idea goes back in ancient texts dating 1,600 years, and has been believed by the faithful for just as long. The Rosary itself, which dates to at least the 13th century, features the Assumption as one of the Glorious Mysteries.
According to an old legend, all the apostles except Thomas witnessed Mary’s Assumption. When Thomas returned, he went to Mary’s empty tomb in Jerusalem with the other apostles. Inside, they found nothing but her garments and many beautiful flowers. At that moment, Mary dropped her girdle upon Thomas from heaven, proving to him that she had been Assumed.
Even historical documents not necessarily recognized by the Church point to the Assumption. In one such 5th-century text, called the Euthymiaca Historia, the Roman emperor supposedly writes to the Patriarch of Jerusalem asking for the body of Mary to be sent to a church he’s building. The Patriarch explains that Mary’s tomb has always been empty, and he sends her shroud to the emperor instead.
Overall, the history of the Assumption is firmly grounded in Church tradition. The 1950 proclamation of the Assumption as dogma by Pope Pius XII was merely an official affirmation of this age-old belief. The fact of this belief’s persistence in the Church for so long is proof itself of its divine truth.
The Feast of the Assumption
The Feast of Mary’s Assumption occurs every year on August 15th and is typically a holy day of obligation. In many European and Latin American countries, it’s even a public holiday.
During the Renaissance, villages would hold processions and plays to honor Mary’s Assumption, a practice that continues today in some areas. Other countries honor the feast day by getting flowers and herbs blessed in church, a reminder of the flowers found by the apostles in Mary’s tomb.
For Catholics, the Assumption helps explain Mary’s special role in God’s plan. “[Mary’s] Assumption and the dogma of the Assumption shows all Christians the honor and pride of place which God has bestowed on the Blessed Virgin Mary,” explains Fr. Dindo Billote, pastor of St. Mary Church in Mokena, Illinois. “Her place as Queen of all Saints and Mediatrix of Grace is underscored as well as all of her titles due to her role in our salvation history [and] her cooperation with Gods Plan.”
Perhaps most important of all, the Assumption of Mary’s body and soul into heaven foreshadows God’s plan for all of us who follow His path. Our spirits will one day be reunited with our bodies and, like Mary, we will hopefully have a place in God’s kingdom.