From the earliest centuries of the Church, the Assumption into Heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, has been a subject of veneration and Christian doctrine.
However, there is no direct biblical source for this belief. There is no historical record. We don’t know the time or the place of the end of Mary’s life on earth. Our most faithful source is Apostolic Tradition. There are references to the Apostles’ belief in the Assumption in the writings of the early Fathers of the Church. Finally, after centuries of belief and veneration, just sixty years ago, in 1950, Pope Pius XII stated that Mary’s Assumption is Church dogma. Pope Pius XII wrote that Mary, “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” He merely stated as dogmatic truth what the Church has believed and taught from the beginning.
His statement said nothing about whether Mary experienced death. We simply don’t know. We do know that this important person of the Church, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, is the same person to whom the Archangel Gabriel appeared and announced God’s love and intention for her to conceive and bear a child. We know that there has never been a time in the Church when the Church witnessed to her death and burial. There is no traditional burial site for Mary. The Church teaches only that she was assumed into heaven, body and soul at the completion of her life.
The Greek Orthodox Church calls this feast the “Dormition”, for the belief that Mary did not die but just fell asleep one last time before she was assumed into heaven. Again, we have no facts. All of this discussion is merely evidence of a powerful sense of devotion and contemplation by the Church.
It helps to return to our Christian understanding of “Original Sin”. We don’t speak enough about Original Sin. However, we won’t really understand our reason to “Hope” unless we know in our hearts about “Original Sin.” Come with me back to the Biblical book of Genesis, in the first three chapters. There we find the account of creation.
God did not create sin. God did not create sinful man. God created Adam and Eve without sin. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. God did not create death. The first man and woman were created in the image of God, to live eternally with God.
Adam and Eve were our first human parents. We are completely like them. We all have inherited the same things God made in Adam and Eve. We have a body, a head, hands, feet, eyes and ears. We have intelligence and emotions. Nothing, absolutely nothing is different. Everything we have as human characteristics we inherited from our first parents. They were made in the image of God. We are made in the image of God. Our first parents were human and created without sin, because God did not create sin. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God to live forever and not die, because God did not create death.
However our first parents committed original sin by disobedience to God. They were rebels against God. Because they rebelled against God they lost several things. As rebels against God they lost friendship with God. They broke God’s trust. By their rebellion, they could no longer live eternally in his presence. These rebels lost their eternal life by their own free decision.
Adam and Eve died. For this reason, their children could never have eternal life because their parents didn’t have it to give to their children. Death entered the world through sin. We inherited death and original sin. Our first parents freely chose sin and rebellion against God. We inherited everything from Adam and Eve, including sin and death because of their rebellion. They chose exile and death because they chose disobedience. This is original sin. That was not God’s plan when he created Man.
Since that rebellion, God’s plan of salvation for mankind is to restore us to the way we were before the sin of Adam and Eve. God wanted to recreate a new man and a new woman. God needed a new woman who would become the mother of his son. This woman didn’t inherit original sin. Mary is the new Eve, created like Eve, without sin.
This is the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Mary was not a rebel against God. And, Mary wouldn’t die. Mary said “Yes” to God. And Mary gave birth to a son without sin. Through Mary and Jesus, all men could once again have the hope of living without sin and death. Jesus is the “Light of the World” because he conquered death. Our salvation means to become again like Adam and Eve before their rebellion, without Original Sin and Death. This is God’s plan for our salvation. That is why Mary was “assumed” into heaven. She could not die. Death had no power over her.
Jesus gave us the sacraments of the Church so that we can live forever with him and with his Mother Mary and all the saints. Through the Sacrament of Baptism our Original Sin is washed away. Our Baptism makes us again like Adam and Eve before the Fall. If we sin later, we can become again sinless through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through the Eucharist we are fed the food of eternal life. God intended us to live with him forever, if we are obedient to Him.
And, so it is with Mary. She is not venerated because she was pretty or for any other earthly reason. The only reason we venerate Mary, and believe in her Assumption is because she bore God within her body. God took flesh from the Virgin Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mary was assumed into heaven with her Son. And, so it will be with us if we live faithfully our baptismal promises. Mary shows us the way to Heaven.