The Bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven

The Bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven
written by: Bro. Rey V. Entila (written: June 2005)
CFD - Bacolod

Virgin Mary’s Bodily Assumption. This doctrine states that Mary, after her life on earth was over, entered heaven with both body and soul, through God’s sovereign power.

I. The Teaching of the Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

"Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death" (Pope Pius XII, August 15, 1950). The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:

In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death” (CCC 966).

II. Old Testament Prefigurement

The Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary differs from the Ascension of Jesus Christ in that in the Assumption, Mary was taken to heaven by God’s power, whereas in the Ascension, Jesus went up to heaven by his own divine power.

“Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” Gn.5:24 (Hb11:5). Enoch was taken to heaven without dying.

“And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, "My father, my father! the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more” (2Kg 2:11-12).

Elijah assumed into heaven in fiery chariot. In Catholic theology, both Enoch and Elijah entered the Limbus Patrum (Place of the Fathers or Sheol of the Righteous), which is also called Abraham’s bosom (Lk.16:22) or Paradise cf. Lk.23:43, not heaven because heaven (or paradise) was closed after Adam and Eve sinned. In Ephesians 4:48-9 Jesus emptied limbus patrum when he finally brought the Old Testament saints to heaven.

If Enoch and Elijah did not die because God willed it so, how much more with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of His Son, since she was more privileged than all the prophets and apostles by giving (not just preaching) to the world the Redeemer? “Elijah because of great zeal for the law was taken up into heaven” (1 Mac 2:58). A prophecy in the Psalms is traditionally attributed to Mary: “Arise, O LORD, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might” (Psalm 132:8).

III. New Testament Fulfillment

a. Synoptics

“The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Mt 27:52-53). Many saints who had fallen asleep were raised (picture of victory over death; the curtain in the temple was rent into two from top to bottom, God’s doing, not man’s) to signify that there is no more division for Jews and gentiles – all have access to God. These resurrected Old Testament saints were brought by Jesus to heaven during His Ascension (cf. Eph.4:8-9).

b. John

“Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent 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.11:19-12:1). The description of the
ark in heaven and the woman clothed with the sun depicts that the Blessed Virgin Mary is already in heaven. She is the ark of the covenant in the new Testament. As the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant was lost when the Babylonians seiged Judah during the time of Jeremiah, it could not be found anymore. Some Jewish scholars say it is under the Muslim Dome of the Rock or in Ethiopia, but the Bible says, it’s already in heaven in the person of Mary.

Since the Book of Revelation is written in highly symbolic language, St. John pictured Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant. While the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant contained the staff of Aaron that budded flowers, manna and the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, The Blessed Virgin Mary contained in her womb Jesus, the Word of God, the real Manna from heaven and the one who holds the iron rod as king of all nations. Just as the Ark was made of pure gold and cannot be profaned by any mortal man, Mary was all-pure , virgin and holy, described as being clothed with the sun.

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Rev. 6:9); “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev.20:4). While John saw only the souls of the martyrs and saints in heaven, in Rev. 12:1 he saw Mary in heaven united in both body and soul.

c. Paul

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord”(1 Thess 4:16-17). Baptists and Born-gain Christians believe that believers shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air when He comes again in glory. This they call as Rapture. If they believe that Christians will be raptured, how can they make it impossible for Mary to be raptured when God willed it so?

No tomb or remains can ever be pointed to about the Mary. The tombs of Jesus, Peter, Paul and apostles are located but never with Virgin Mary. The constant belief of the Church since the beginning of Christianity is that Mary assumed both body and soul to heaven (whether she died or not, it is not defined authoritatively by the church).

The discrepancy among non-Catholic Christians is that their belief has no historical continuity, but has only a sudden and jihadic jump from 1st century to 16th cent, gaining only total amnesia of what happened in the intervening years. No oral tradition also when the bible clearly tells that there is oral tradition passed on from generation to generation (cf.2Thess.2:15).

“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1Cor 15:52). At the resurrection Christians shall be changed from having the corruptible body to an incorruptible one which is the glorified body. Since flesh and bones cannot inherit heaven, we must all be changed. However, the unrighteous ones will suffer from unglorified bodies in contrast to the righteous ones. In the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary, however, she received the privilege of taking on her glorified body in heaven, experiencing ahead what all Christians will experience in the future resurrection.

It might be questioned that since Mary died, as admitted by many Catholic theologians today, then she must have been contaminated by original sin. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). The word sin here is singular, referring to original sin. Death here refers both to physical and spiritual death. It can be answered that Virgin Mary did not suffer spiritual death which is separation from God. Just like Jesus here Son, Blessed Mary’s death was not caused by original or actual sin, but a natural consequence to the human physical body that is not designed by God for immortality.

As St. Paul himself was caught up in heaven when he wrote, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows” (2 Cor. 12:2), even so the Blessed Mother was assumed to heaven in both body and soul. We know this by certainty, aside from the experiences of the Old and New Testament personages who were taken to heaven, but also because of the Apostolic Tradition which the Holy Catholic Church received from the Apostles themselves. “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).

IV. Martin Luther on the Assumption of Mary

Contrary to myriads of Evangelical and Fundamentalist preachers today, the dean of the Reformation held the belief that Mary is now in heaven. Christian denominations like Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Iglesia ni Cristo (Manalo) Iglesia ng Diyos (Eli Soriano), and Pentecostal churches that believe in soul sleep, naturally place Mary not in heaven now, but still sleeping like all the rest of the dead, in her tomb. No one, however, can read explicitly or implicitly from the Bible the unbiblical idea “soul sleep”. The teaching of Jesus on the poor man Lazarus who went to Abraham’s bosom after death and the rich man tormented in hell after his physical death, completely negates their “soul sleep” idea. Martin Luther himself, the Patriarch of all Protestant thinkers, never doubts Mary’s assumption to heaven by stating:

"There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know." [Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther's Works (Translation by William J. Cole) 10, p. 268.

V. Objections Against the Doctrine of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption to Heaven

a. “The dogma (Assumption of Mary to Heaven) is based neither on the Word of God nor on tradition, but simply, it seems, on the consensus of contemporary church opinion and theological ‘suitability’”. (Armstrong, p. 124.)

b. We still await for the resurrection day before our bodies are united with our souls, and after that, enter heaven.
c. The dead are still asleep until the Final Coming of Jesus at the last day. (SDA, JW, Pentecostals, etc)

The abovementioned objections by the Fundamentalists can be answered respectively:

a. It was already shown how the Patriarch Enoch was taken by God to heaven and how the fiery Prophet Elijah was caught by God’s fiery chariot to heaven. How can bodily assumption be not Biblical? In the New Testament, the Old Testament saints resurrected from the dead, their body and soul reunited, and entered God’s glory. How can God’s mother be denied of such a great privilege that even Old Testament men and women enjoyed? The doctrine of the bodily assumption is biblical and the Church’s teaching is neither a contemporary opinion nor theological suitability since the Church Fathers even asserted it. Much more, the dean of Protestantism, Luther, upheld it.

b. The Bible says that after death, there is Particular Judgement, which is a judgment rendered to each person (cf. Heb.9:27). After both the rich man and the poor Lazarus died, they both received their just judgement: the greedy rich entered Hades and the poor Lazarus entered the blessedness of eternal life (Lk.16:22-36?). John the Revelator saw the souls already in heaven facing God and praying to Him (Rev.6:9-10). The Blessed Mother, at the end of her sinless life, enjoyed the beatific vision of God in heaven.

c. The recent man-made doctrine of Soul sleep is neither found in the Bible nor the idea of it. The bible tells us that after death, there is judgment (Heb.9:27) and the person does not sleep but goes to the eternal bliss in heaven, or to temporary purification or to eternal damnation in hell. The Blessed Mother went straight to heaven after her life on earth was over.

VI. The Testimony of the Early Church Fathers

Bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Epiphanius. "If the Holy Virgin had died and was buried, her falling asleep would have been surrounded with honour, death would have found her pure, and her crown would have been a virginal one...Had she been martyred according to what is written: 'Thine own soul a sword shall pierce', then she would shine gloriously among the martyrs, and her holy body would have been declared blessed; for by her, did light come to the world" (Panarion,78:23 (A.D. 377).

Gregory of Tours. "[T]he Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, [Mary] rejoices with the Lord's chosen ones..." (Eight Books of Miracles,1:4 (inter A.D. 575-593).

Modestus of Jerusalem. "As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him." (Encomium in dormitionnem Sanctissimae Dominae nostrae Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae(PG 86-II,3306),(ante A.D. 634) from Munificentissimus Deus).

Theoteknos of Livias. "It was fitting ... that the most holy-body of Mary, God-bearing body, receptacle of God, divinized, incorruptible, illuminated by divine grace and full glory ... should be entrusted to the earth for a little while and raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul pleasing to God" (Homily on the Assumption(ante A.D. 650).

Germanus of Constantinople. "You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life." (Sermon I(PG 98,346),(ante A.D. 733),from (Munificentissimus Deus).

John Damascene. "It was fitting that the she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped when giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father, It was fitting that God's Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God" (Dormition of Mary(PG 96,741),(ante A.D. 749) from (Munificentissimus Deus).

John Damascene. "'St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven' (PG(96:1)(A.D. 747-751).

Gregorian Sacramentary. "Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten Thy Son our Lord incarnate from herself" (Veneranda(ante A.D. 795), from Munificentissimus Deus.).

Byzantine Liturgy. "God, the King of the universe, has granted you favors that surpass nature. As he kept you virgin in childbirth, thus he kept your body incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by his divine act of transferring it from the tomb.", from Munificentissimus Deus).

Timotheus of Jerusalem. "[T]he virgin is up to now immortal, as He who lived, translated her into the place of reception" (6th-8th century).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks on Mary the eschatological icon of the Church:

“After speaking of the Church, her origin, mission, and destiny, we can find no better way to conclude than by looking to Mary. In her we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own "pilgrimage of faith," and what she will be in the homeland at the end of her journey. There, "in the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity," "in the communion of all the saints," the Church is awaited by the one she venerates as Mother of her Lord and as her own mother.
‘In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God’” (CCC 972).

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” (CCC 974).

"We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ" (Paul VI)(CCC 975).

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