The Necessity of the Assumption: Five Reasons

The Assumption of Mary—the dogma that at the end of her earthly life, Mary’s body was taken up into heaven to be with her Son, Jesus—is among the most beautiful of the Church’s teachings. It is also a necessary dogma—not only because it has been infallibly defined as such by the Church, itself a sufficient reason for belief—but also for these five reasons:

1. Sharing in Christ’s Lot: One principle of Marian theology holds that Mary shared in Christ’s lot, as Pope Pius XII has written. This is suggested as early as Genesis 3:15, where it is foretold that there would be enmity between the offspring of Satan and that of Eve. An even closer link between the lots of Mary and Jesus is suggested by Simeon in Like 2, where he prophecies that she too will have a sword pierce her heart. Indeed, in important ways, her life paralleled her Son’s. Her presence is especially significant at two key moments: the commencement of Jesus’ earthly ministry at the wedding at Cana and its climax in His crucifixion. She was, as the early Fathers down to Pius XII recognized, the Eve to Christ’s Adam. As Father William Most has written,

[T]he New Eve had been closely associated with the New Adam in the struggle against sin and death. Still further, in the case of her Son, that struggle had brought glorification. Since the struggle was in common to both, then a common cause would have a common effect: it had to bring a parallel glorification to her, the Assumption.

2. God’s ‘eternal dwelling place’: A second reason why the Assumption is necessary was outlined by Pope Benedict XVI in a homily he delivered several years ago for this feast day. Here is how the Holy Father put it:

In the Gospel we have just heard, St Luke, with various allusions, makes us understand that Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant, that the mystery of the Temple—God’s dwelling place here on earth—is fulfilled in Mary. God, who became present here on earth, truly dwells in Mary. Mary becomes his tent. What all the cultures desire—that God dwell among us—is brought about here. …

Thus, being God’s dwelling place on earth, in her the eternal dwelling place has already been prepared, it has already been prepared for ever. And this constitutes the whole content of the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heavenly glory, expressed here in these words. Mary is “blessed” because—totally, in body and soul and for ever—she became the Lord’s dwelling place.

In other words: Scripture makes clear through allusions in Luke that Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, the permanent dwelling place of God. This is a role that she exercised in a very physical sense. Therefore it does not make sense that once Christ was returned to heaven He would have been separated from his “dwelling place.” To the contrary, it seems that the two must be reunited out of sheer logical necessity.

3. Mary’s purity: Assuming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption necessarily follows from it. As Pope Pius XII explains:

For these two privileges are most closely related to each other. Christ has overcome sin and death by His own death; and one who is reborn in a heavenly way through baptism has, through Christ Himself, conquered sin and death. However, in accord with His general rule, God does not wish to grant the full effect of victory over death to the just until the end of time shall have come…. Yet God wished that the Blessed Virgin Mary be exempt from this general law. For she, by a completely singular privilege, conquered sin in her Immaculate Conception, and thus was not liable to that law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, nor did she have to wait for the end of time for the redemption of her body.

4. The Bible says so: The appearance in Revelation 12 of “a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” cannot be ignored for its significant Marian implications. There is a major debate over whether this woman is actually Mary. Some say the woman represents Eve, others the Church, yet others Israel. Jimmy Akin, writing here, offers the best resolution to this, I think. He says that Revelation tends to fuse imagery—in other words, that “symbols have more than one meaning.” So in this instance, Akin would  say that the answer is all of the above—the woman is all those things: Eve, the Church, Israel, and Mary.

Regardless of whether you accept the other readings, I think that a Marian reading is inescapable. First and most obviously, we are talking about a woman who clearly gives birth to a son, who the context of the chapter makes clear, could only be Christ. To paraphrase John Henry Newman, if we’re talking about a literal Christ, how could we not also be talking about a literal Mary? Second, the preceding chapter offers us a giant clue that certainly tips the balance in favor of a Marian reading: John witnesses the Ark of the Covenant in heaven. Then we immediately proceed to Chapter 12 (and we should recall that chapter divisions were introduced later).

The Marian reading is reinforced in another way as well. Even if we take the alternative interpretations as the primary meanings—Eve, Israel, and Church—all imply Mary in one way or another. In the case of Israel and the Church interpretations, Mary is seen in Catholic theology as a personification of both ancient Israel and the new Church. So, even if we accept the Church or Israel interpretation, on some fundamental level, Mary is implied. As for the Eve interpretation, it should be obvious, through the Church’s teaching that since Mary is the New Eve for the end times, that Mary again would be implied.

Conclusion: No matter how you approach Revelation 12, you can’t avoid Mary. A Marian reading of the text is inescapable.

5. Jesus honoring His Mother: There is a very compelling argument from philosophy, or what might be called natural theology, for the Assumption of Mary as well. Certainly the imperative to honor one’s mother is one that would have been applicable to Jesus. As both fully man and fully God, how would He have done this? In the most perfectly good way possible. As philosopher Richard Swinburne has written, “[a] perfectly good being will in any situation do the best possible act, if there is such an act.” In the case of honoring His Mother, is there any doubt that the best possible way to honor Mary would be to assume her body into heaven (to paraphrase Pope Pius XII)? Certainly withholding from Mary a privilege that was granted to Enoch, Elijah, and Moses in the Old Testament would seem to be less than the best possible act.

COMING TOMORROW – WHAT THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY MEANS TO YOU

Email me at bealenews@gmail.com to share your stories of how the Church’s teaching on the Assumption of Mary has impacted your faith. As always, be forewarned I may share some of what you tell in future posts. Out of respect for your privacy, I won’t use your name.

Stephen Beale

By

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Jason

    As I meditate on this mystery, it is revealed to me of the sixth reason. The sixth reason is that since Jesue takes his flesh from the Blessed Mother and when he returns to Heaven with his blessed and precious flesh, he must ensure that the blessed flesh of his Mother returns to Heaven after her death. Jesus cannot let his Mother’s flesh corrupt in the earthly tomb.

  • Dick Landkamer

    There is a certain “imperfection” in the resurrection of Jesus.  The imperfection is analogous to the “imperfection” of His suffering, that is, that there was “something lacking” in the suffering of Christ, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians (1:24).  Jesus was fully human, but He did not possess human personhood, as the Council of Ephesus (431) declared by defining Mary as the mother of God.  The imperfection of the resurrection, then, is that a human person did not participate directly in the defeat of death’s hold over man.  With the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the resurrection of Jesus attains its full perfection by including a human person, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Hence, there is in this a necessity for Assumption.

  • Roger Thomas

    “Jesus was fully human, but He did not possess human personhood, as the Council of Ephesus (431) declared by defining Mary as the mother of God.” Hmm – I’m not a trained theologian, but I seem to remember the definition of /Theotokos/ was in response to the Nestorian heresy, which had to do with the Divine nature of Christ.  I think it’s Church dogma that Jesus had both fully divine and fully human natures, and wouldn’t someone who had full human nature possess “human personhood”?

  • charlye

    Moses was not assumed into heaven. 

  • Dick Landkamer

    Roger, you are correct that the definition of Mary as
    Theotokos was in response to the Nestorian heresy, but that heresy was,
    ultimately, about the personhood of Jesus. 
    Nestorius, in effect, considered Jesus to be both a human and a divine
    person and declared Mary to be Christotokos (i.e., mother of the human person
    who was the Messiah), and he rejected Mary as Theotokos (i.e., mother of the
    divine person who was the Messiah).  The
    Council rejected the former and affirmed the latter.  The nature of Jesus was first addressed in
    the Council of Nicea (325) as a result of the priest Arius denying the divinity
    of Jesus.  That council taught that Jesus
    had two natures, divine and human, as you correctly understand.  However, being fully human does not mean
    having human personhood, as the Council of Ephesus affirmed.  The Church teaches that Jesus had a human and
    a divine nature, as well as a human and divine will, but that His personhood
    was singularly divine.  You can find more
    about this teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 466.

  • Catholic Minnesotan

    “However, being fully human does not mean having human personhood”…
    So, it would follow that abortion could be right, which the Church vehemently denies.  Thus, the church must believe  that to possess a fully human nature would be to have human personhood fully.

  • ponerology

    Isn’t the term “person” a legal term? It doesn’t mean a human being. 

  • Mblouin6354

    Ponerology, this is true… personhood is the “status of being a person as it equates to citizenship, equalty and liberty.

    Tertullian in his book “De Trinitae”, wanting to differenticate the three persons of the Trinity transformed the theatrical use of the word ” persona”, into the word people by using it in a strictly technical theological way.

    Boethius further refined the word to mean ” an individual substance of a rational nature” or ” that which possess an intellect or will”.

    Thus, the word ” person” was originally a theological term CREATED and DEFINED by Christians to EXPLAIN Christian theological concepts.

    So, Catholic Minnasotan

  • John

    This isn’t totally clear. We know that Moses died on Mt Nebo and was buried by God in a valley in Moab whose precise location was unknown (Deut 34.5-6). But
    the Epistle of Jude refers to an event when “the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses” (v. 9). Jude is quoting from an apocryphal text, “The Assumption of Moses.” Obviously, that text is not canonical, but Jude’s appeal to the event that it reports would seem to lend some credence to the position that Moses was assumed into paradise after his death. If that’s the case, it does add an extra layer of symmetry to the appearance of Moses with Elijah (who had been assumed) on the mount of Transfiguration.

    But I don’t think we can be certain one way or the other. I tend to the view that he was assumed, but this is hardly a slam-dunk case.

  • Dick Landkamer

    The context was in regard to the personhood of Jesus.  Hence, the statement ”being fully human does not mean having human personhood” should be read as “being fully human does not (necessarily) mean having HUMAN personhood.”  Being fully human does require personhood, but in the case of Jesus, the lone human exception, that personhood is divine, as the Council of Ephesus taught.

MENU