Every year the Church obliges Catholics to attend Mass on August 15th, in the middle of summer, to honor the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The belief pertaining to Mary’s Assumption, while celebrated for centuries (many saints have homilies on the Assumption), was elevated to the status of dogma with the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus on November 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII. Essentially the Holy Father declared it to be true that Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven, and to support this claim, he provided the witness of the Catholic Church throughout the centuries. Despite the definition and support throughout history for the belief, the document leaves open-ended certain questions pertaining to the Assumption. As a result, individuals hold a variety of opinions regarding this Marian event.
You could say, people make assumptions about Mary’s assumption—specifically whether or not she died, where it occurred, and how old she was. Let’s look at the questions and see what assumptions we can make about the Assumption dogma.
1. Did Mary Die?
Last year I celebrated the feast of the Assumption as an outdoor Mass at the local Catholic cemetery. I thought it was quite the appropriate imagery for the Assumption, since it is our hope to go where Jesus ascended, and where Mary was assumed to reign as Queen of Heaven and Earth. The feast of the Assumption presents us with the question of whether or not Mary died. The Holy Father did not answer this question, as he chose to reflect on her bodily assumption, and not her death, thus leaving the question open to speculation.
There are three theological camps that emerge within Assumption theology: the dormitionists, assumptionists, and immortalists. Dormitionists believe Mary fell asleep until “she was transferred, body and soul to share her Son’s glory.” Assumptionists maintain Mary died and was placed in a tomb, and later the tomb was found empty. The Immortalists argue that Mary had no need to undergo death since she was not the savior and because death is a consequent of original sin. They believe that Mary was glorified and taken to heaven while still alive. (See Denis Farkasfalvy, The Marian Mystery: Outline of a Mariology, p. 167).
What assumption have I made about the Assumption? I align myself with the Assumptionist position, that Mary died and was placed in a tomb, later to be discovered empty. I reached my opinion based off the many biographies of Mary by spiritual and mystical authors. The first work that I personally place a high value on is by Maximus the Confessor called The Life of Mary. I trust this account because it presents a synthesis of the Catholic tradition from the early Church to the seventh century. I also have reviewed the works of Venerable Maria of Agreda and Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, who through visions, saw the life of Mary and related it in their accounts The Mystical City of God and The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, respectively. All three accounts seem to confirm the assumptionist position. Our authors recount a second-annunciation moment for Mary, in which the angel appears and tells Mary that her time to be reunited with her son would soon be approaching. In the accounts, the Apostles are summoned to Mary’s bedside and are present at her passing, and then carry her body in funeral procession to the tomb. When an apostle arrives late, the tomb is opened, only to find the burial cloths.
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