Awhile back I wrote a blog post wherein I shared my reasons for giving up belief in the Rapture – the idea that Jesus will return to whisk His people away to Heaven before the antichrist is revealed and earth is plunged into its final crisis. Introduced to the Rapture as a teen by author Hal Lindsey, and confirmed in it during my time in a non-denominational church, my own study eventually brought me to the conclusion that the Rapture was not a legitimate element of Christian Faith. Despite its popularity among U.S. Christians, the belief has no basis in Scripture and directly contradicts two millennia of Christianity teaching stating how in the last days, the Church will share Christ’s Passion in an intense way, and then at His return, His Resurrection.
The funny thing is that, at the same time that I believed so whole-heartedly in the Rapture, I also argued against the Catholic belief that Mary was assumed into heaven. Do you see the irony? I was absolutely convinced that Jesus was going to raise the entire Church up into heaven, but totally opposed to the Catholic dogma that Jesus had already done so for His Mother!
My change of heart occurred long before I came to have a positive view of the Catholic Tradition regarding Mary’s assumption. My thought process went something like this:
- The Bible does not say that Mary wasn’t assumed into heaven.
- The Old Testament does speak of two other people having been assumed, Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12).If it was true for them, then couldn’t it be true of Mary?
- Matthew’s Gospel states that at the moment of Jesus’ death, “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Mt. 27:52-53). Wasn’t it reasonable to believe that after these appearances they, too, were assumed into heaven? Again, if it was true for them, then why not for Mary?
- If the assumption occurred at the end of her life, then wouldn’t portions of the New Testament already have been written? Did the Bible have to explicitly say it for the event to have occurred?
- There are tons of things not explicitly recorded in the Bible; the Holy Spirit moved John to end his Gospel with that very thought, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (Jn. 21:25)
The Assumption coincides with, dovetails into, Scripture; whereas a pre-Tribulation Rapture is in contradiction to the overall picture of the last days painted by the New Testament.
Belief in Mary’s assumption is witnessed to in writing prior to 400 A.D. (although it claims to go back to the apostles), while the Rapture does not make an appearance until 1850.
The Assumption squares with the Christian reality that glory follows suffering (Mary’s share in Jesus’ Resurrection came only after she shared in His suffering upon the Cross [Lk.2:35; Jn.19:25-37].) The Rapture on the other hand, holds out a false expectation regarding freedom from suffering and persecution.
Catholics and Orthodox Christians have of course always said that the Christian Faith was not be limited to those things explicitly stated in Scripture. (No legitimate point of belief could ever contradict Scripture, but there is not a requirement that it be explicitly stated in Scripture either.)
If you, however, object to Mary’s assumption because you only accept beliefs that you can locate within the pages of Scripture, then you really ought to take a second look at John’s vision in the Book of Revelation. And as you read, please keep in mind how the Gospel of Luke’s identified Mary with the Ark of the Covenant (compare Luke 1:39-45,56 with 2 Samuel 6:2-3,6-12,16) and how in the Gospel of John, Jesus always addressed His Mother as “Woman” (Jn.2:1-5; 19:25-27):
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; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold a great red dragon…the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne … (Revelation 11:19-12:5)
It’s something to consider. Catholics do not appeal to any particular verse as a proof text for the dogma of the Assumption; but Revelation 11-12 certainly does not hurt their case! As I looked more into the foundations of Catholic belief, I discovered that the Assumption had a much more ancient pedigree than the Rapture. Once Constantine became Emperor and Christianity was no longer a persecuted sect, Christians were able to erect churches over the sites sacred to them (such as the Holy Sepulchre in 336 A.D.). These sites had been preserved in the local church’s memory throughout the centuries. One of the sites, close to Mount Zion where the first Christian community had lived, had always been reverenced as the place of Mary’s Dormition (“falling asleep). It was not the place where Mary’s body resided, however – only the place where it had temporarily rested before Mary was raised body and soul into heaven.
Although different local churches could point to the tombs of the Apostles and martyrs and boast of having their relics (bodies), there was never any such claim made in regard to Mary. Had there been a body, the early Church would have cherished it. But instead of Mary’s body we have this memory, this witness, from the time of the apostles, ingrained within Christians in and around Jerusalem. Just a little research on the web can provide the early witnesses:
- “If therefore it might come to pass before the power of Your grace, it has appeared right to us Your servants that, as You, having overcome death does reign in glory, so You should raise up the body of Your mother and take her with You, rejoicing into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: ‘Be it done according to your will” (Pseudo-Melito The Passing of the Virgin 16:2-17; 300 AD).
- “Therefore the Virgin is immortal to this day, seeing that He who had dwelt in her transported her to the regions of her assumption” (Timothy of Jerusalem Homily on Simeon and Anna; 400 AD).
- “And from that time forth all knew that the spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise” (John the Theologian, The Falling Asleep of Mary; 400 AD)
- “The 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…” (Gregory of Tours, Eight Books of Miracles, 1:4; 575-593 A.D.)
St. John Damascene, living in the desert outside Jerusalem in the early 700’s, gave the same testimony: “In the Holy and divinely-inspired Scriptures no mention is made of anything concerning the end of Mary the Holy Mother of God; but we have received from ancient and most truthful tradition … the Apostles … opened the coffin. And they were unable anywhere to find her most lauded body … Struck by the wonder of the mystery they could only think that He who had been pleased to become incarnate from her in His own Person and to become Man and to be born in the flesh, God the Word, the Lord of Glory … was pleased even after her departure from life to honor her immaculate and undefiled body with incorruption and with translation prior to the common and universal resurrection.” (Second Homily on the Dormition of Mary, c.715 A.D.)
The celebration of Mary’s Dormition in the liturgy was first recorded in Palestine in the late 400’s and was taken up throughout the Eastern Church and then the West throughout the 500’s.
In the end, I see the Assumption’s credibility as standing head-and-shoulders above the Rapture’s; and thus, I was forced to change my tune. Which is good because on top of everything I have already shared, in 1950 Pope Pius XII used the power of the keys to definitively state that Mary’s assumption is a legitimate point of the Faith that has come down to us from the Apostles. To neglect it is forego knowledge of one of the “many other things” that Jesus did that were not written down in Scripture (Jn. 21:25), but have been preserved within the living memory of His Church. And that Church is, in the words of Scripture, “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).