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 [email protected] 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.