The Assumption of Mary into Heaven
by Father William G. Most
Evidence for the Assumption
There had been a problem of how the Pope could define the Assumption. There seemed to
be nothing in Scripture on it, and what things there were in the Tradition of the Fathers
seemed to come not from an apostolic origin, but from some apocryphal stories that
circulated chiefly beginning in the fourth century.
A Pope is not required to specify precisely where in the sources of revelation he finds
a given doctrine. Yet, those documents often do review various things that at least in a
way seem to support the teaching. We see an example of this in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus
in which Pius IX defined the Immaculate Conception.
One thought that was clearly in the mind of Pius XII was the principle of consortium--that
Mary was "always sharing His [Christ's] lot" (AAS 42. 768).
In line with this, Pope Pius showed the relation of the Assumption to the Immaculate
Conception: "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" (AAS 42. 754).
Pius XII next said he had asked the opinions of all the Bishops of the world on the
Assumption. Their response was almost unanimous in the affirmative. The universal teaching
of the authorities of the Church by itself, he tells us, gives us a proof (Cf. Lumen
gentium ## 25 and 12).
He next reviewed some of the outstanding statements of Tradition throughout all the
centuries. This teaching is found at a very early date in the liturgical books. After the
patristic age, the same doctrine was studied in detail by scholastic theologians. For
example, the Pope quotes the words of St. Bernardine of Siena who "... gathered up
and carefully treated everything that medieval theologians had said and discussed on this
matter. He was not satisfied to repeat the chief considerations which doctors of previous
times had already proposed, but added others of his own. For the likeness of the Mother of
God and the Divine Son in regard to nobility of soul and body--a likeness which forbids
the very thought that the heavenly Queen should be separated from the heavenly
King--absolutely demands that Mary 'must not be anywhere but where Christ is.' And
furthermore, it is reasonable and fitting that not only the soul and body of a man, but
also the soul and body of a woman should have already attained heavenly glory. Finally,
since the Church has never sought for bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin, nor exposed
them for the veneration of the faithful, we have an argument which can be considered as
'practically a proof by sensory experience'" (AAS 42. 765-66).
He then speaks of St. Francis de Sales, who "after stating that it would be wrong
to doubt that Jesus Christ has kept in the most perfect way the divine commandment that
children honor their parents, puts this question: 'What son, if he could, would not bring
his mother back to life, and take her, after death, into paradise?'"(AAS 42.
We have given only a sample of the great review of earlier teachings given in the
Munificentissimus Deus. After this survey, the Pope sums up: "All these arguments and
considerations of the Holy Fathers rest on the Sacred Writings as their ultimate
foundation. These place the revered Mother of God as it were before our eyes, as most
closely joined to her Divine Son, and always sharing in His lot. Hence it seems
practically impossible to think of her who conceived Christ, brought Him forth, gave Him
milk, held Him in her hands and pressed Him to her heart as being separated from Him after
this earthly life in body, even though not in soul" (AAS 42. 767-68).
The Key to the Doctrine
But it seems that the precise ground for the definition is in the following passage
just before the definition: "We must remember especially that, since the second
century, the Virgin Mary has been presented by the Holy Fathers as the New Eve, who,
although subject to the New Adam, was most closely associated with Him in that struggle
against the infernal enemy which, as foretold in the protoevangelium, was to result in
that most complete victory over sin and death, which are always correlated in the writings
of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Wherefore, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was
an essential part and final sign of this victory, so also that struggle which was common
to the Blessed Virgin and her Son had to be closed by the 'glorification' of her virginal
body" (AAS 42. 768).
The thought is brilliant. The Pope first recalled the New Eve theme, which we have
seen. Then he focused on the fact, within that theme, that the 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.
Pius XII carefully refrained from saying in his own words at any point that she died.
Some, even a few of the Fathers, had denied that she ever died, basing this on the fact
that death was the result of original sin, which she lacked. However, because as Pius XII
also said, she was "always sharing His lot," for this reason, likeness to Him,
it seems much more probable that she did die.
Excerpted and adapted from Theology 523: Our Lady in Doctrine and Devotion, by Father
William G. Most.
Copyright (c) 1994 William G. Most
Electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1996. All rights reserved.