Having been closely associated with Christís redemptive work, it was
fitting for Mary to share the experience of death before partaking of
"The experience of death personally enriched the Blessed Virgin:
by undergoing mankind's common destiny, she can more effectively
exercise her spiritual motherhood towards those approaching the last
moment of their life", the Holy Father said at the General Audience
of Wednesday, 25 June, as he reflected on the dormition of the Mother of
God. Here is a translation of the Pope's catechesis, which was the 53rd
in the series on the Blessed Mother and was given in Italian.
1. Concerning the end of Mary's earthly life, the Council uses the
terms of the Bull defining the dogma of the Assumption and states:
"The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original
sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly
life was over" (Lumen gentium, n. 59). With this
formula, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, following my
Venerable Predecessor Pius XII, made no pronouncement on the question of
Mary's death. Nevertheless, Pius XII did not intend to deny the fact of
her death, but merely did not judge it opportune to affirm solemnly the
death of the Mother of God as a truth to be accepted by all believers.
Christ made death a means of salvation
Some theologians have in fact maintained that the Blessed Virgin did
not die and was immediately raised from earthly life to heavenly glory.
However, this opinion was unknown until the 17th century, whereas a
common tradition actually exists which sees Mary's death as her entry
into heavenly glory.
2. Could Mary of Nazareth have experienced the drama of death in her
own flesh? Reflecting on Mary's destiny and her relationship with her
divine Son, it seems legitimate to answer in the affirmative: since
Christ died, it would be difficult to maintain the contrary for his
The Fathers of the Church, who had no doubts in this regard, reasoned
along these lines. One need only quote St Jacob of Sarug (d. 521), who
wrote that when the time came for Mary "to walk on the way of all
generations", the way, that is, of death, "the group of the
Twelve Apostles" gathered to bury "the virginal body of the
Blessed One" (Discourse on the burial of the Holy Mother of God,
87-99 in C. Vona, Lateranum 19 , 188). St Modestus of
Jerusalem (d. 634), after a lengthy discussion of "the most blessed
dormition of the most glorious Mother of God", ends his eulogy by
exalting the miraculous intervention of Christ who "raised her from
the tomb", to take her up with him in glory (Enc. in
dormitionem Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae, nn. 7 and 14:
PG 86 bis, 3293; 3311). St John Damascene (d. 704) for his
part asks: "Why is it that she who in giving birth surpassed all
the limits of nature should now bend to its laws, and her immaculate
body be subjected to death?". And he answers: "To be clothed
in immortality, it is of course necessary that the mortal part be shed,
since even the master of nature did not refuse the experience of death.
Indeed, he died according to the flesh and by dying destroyed death; on
corruption he bestowed incorruption and made death the source of
resurrection" (Panegyric on the Dormition of the Mother of God,
n. 10: SC 80, 107).
3. It is true that in Revelation death is presented as a punishment
for sin. However, the fact that the Church proclaims Mary free from
original sin by a unique divine privilege does not lead to the
conclusion that she also received physical immortality. The Mother is
not superior to the Son who underwent death, giving it a new meaning and
changing it into a means of salvation. Involved in Christ's redemptive
work and associated in his saving sacrifice, Mary was able to share in
his suffering and death for the sake of humanity's Redemption. What
Severus of Antioch says about Christ also applies to her: "Without
a preliminary death, how could the Resurrection have taken place?"
(Antijulianistica, Beirut 1931, 194f.). To share in Christ's
Resurrection, Mary had first to share in his death.
4. The New Testament provides no information on the circumstances of
Mary's death. This silence leads one to suppose that it happened
naturally, with no detail particularly worthy of mention. If this were
not the case, how could the information about it have remained hidden
from her contemporaries and not have been passed down to us in some way?
As to the cause of Mary's death, the opinions that wish to exclude
her from death by natural causes seem groundless. It is more important
to look for the Blessed Virgin's spiritual attitude at the moment of her
departure from this world. In this regard, St Francis de Sales maintains
that Mary's death was due to a transport of love. He speaks of a dying
"in love, from love and through love", going so far as to say
that the Mother of God died of love for her Son Jesus (Treatise on
the Love of God, bk. 7, ch. XIII-XIV).
Mary's death was an event of love
Whatever from the physical point of view was the organic, biological
cause of the end of her bodily life, it can be said that for Mary the
passage from this life to the next was the full development of grace in
glory, so that no death can ever be so fittingly described as a "dormition"
5. In some of the writings of the Church Fathers we find Jesus
himself described as coming to take his Mother at the time of her death
to bring her into heavenly glory. In this way they present the death of
Mary as an event of love which conducted her to her divine Son to share
his immortal life. At the end of her earthly life, she must have
experienced, like Paul and more strongly, the desire to be freed from
her body in order to be with Christ for ever (cf. Phil 1:23).
The experience of death personally enriched the Blessed Virgin: by
undergoing mankind's common destiny, she can more effectively exercise
her spiritual motherhood towards those approaching the last moment of