Q. What do we know about Mary’s Assumption into heaven? How did it happen? Where is it believed to have taken place? Does the fact that Mary was assumed into heaven mean that she didn’t die?
A. Our belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven is, at its core, Christocentric. Mary’s Assumption reveals to us the glory of the Lord’s own Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension into heaven. She who knew no sin was given the privilege to already experience the resurrection and assumption that all who believe in Christ are promised to receive at the end of time.
When Pope Pius XII proclaimed Mary’s Assumption a dogma of our faith in 1950, he said that he did so partly because bishops, priests and members of the lay faithful all over the world had petitioned him, as the Holy Father, to do so. The other reason was because of the rich tradition of prayers and liturgical celebrations from the early centuries of the Church that honoured the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Pope Pius deemed the voice of the faithful and the living Tradition of the Church as credible witnesses to the commonly held belief among Catholics that Mary was assumed into heaven. The timing of the Pope’s proclamation was important as well. In the aftermath of World War II, which saw over 50 million people die in Europe, it is understandable that many questioned God’s promise. How – after such carnage – could Christians still dare to believe that we would all experience resurrection in Christ one day? The declaration of Mary’s Assumption was a sign of encouragement to a wounded world that despite the horrors of war, we can hold onto the belief that God will raise us up once again. To those who believe, we will one day know the eternal delights that Mary already experiences.
While there is no written account of the Assumption, there are two places purported to be the location of this miraculous event. The first is the Church of the Dormition in Jerusalem, while the other is Mary’s house in Ephesus. Though most ancient sources point to Jerusalem as the site of Mary’s Assumption, the Church has never formally declared where it took place. Of the various descriptions, my personal favourite is found in the book, “Father Elijah,” by Michael O’Brien. It’s well worth a read, but I must stress this is just one author’s interpretation of how the Assumption may have taken place, not Church teaching!
Scripture teaches us that death is a consequence of sin. Since Mary was conceived free of original sin (and was also preserved from any personal sin), it is fitting that she would be spared from sin’s consequences. In the eastern Christian world, it became common to speak of the “dormition” or falling asleep of Mary at the end of her mortal life, after which the Lord Jesus assumed her into heaven. This was an expression that was often used for the death of any Christian in the Early Church – that those who had fallen asleep in the peace of Christ would awaken with Him in heaven, rising with Him on the last day.