Reconsidering the Assumption

The Dormition of the Theotokis by Svitozar Nenyuk

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the feast when the Church commemorates Mary’s assumption of body and soul into heaven. As the young Immaculate Virgin said yes to God’s call, her body was the first temple for the Son of God. Catholics believe that Mary’s holy body now enjoys full union with her Son in eternal glory.

Taylor Marshall wrote an interesting essay “Did the Virgin Mary Die?  The Answer May Surprise You” which sought to use art, iconography and writings of the Early Church Fathers to clear up any ambiguities from Pope Venerable Pius XII’s dogmatic declaration  Munificentissimus Deus (1950). Marshall concluded that Mary was laid in the tomb and hear death when her soul was detached from her earthly body but that her Assumption from living a sinless life that was totally oriented towards Christ that the Lord allowed for the Assumption of her body into heaven.  Moreover, Marshall concluded that sin Mary died without sin that she was given dominion over Purgatory as prophesized in Ecclesiastes 24. 

Orthodox Christianity also revere the end of Mary’s life on earth. In the Eastern Churches, The Dormition of the Theotokis or, to use more contemporary parlance, “the Falling Asleep of the God-bearer” is sn as a transformation of Mary’s life into a heavenly and immortal existence without the shadows of gloom or death.

There is a persistent legend among Orthodox Christian believers that all of the disciples, save Thomas who was preaching in India, were present for Mary’s dormition and burial. These disciples were said to guard the tomb for three days. On the third day, Thomas saw Mary’s body rising to heaven. Mary greeted him as “My friend” as Thomas was escorted by angels to proclaim the assumption. This tradition echos the Church of Jerusalem’s sense that Mary’s dormition had a deep sense of the resurrection.

Marshall’s musing that Mary’s death involved separation of her soul from her body as well as appreciating the Assumption compliments the Eastern Christian’s notions of the Dormition of Mary. 

Sola Scriptura Protestants probably have problems with theology premised on this Dormition tradition, particularly on practices not christologically focused. However, the Early Church clearly revered this dormition/assumption before the scriptural canon was determined. The solemnity is not a quasi-deitization of Mary but a recognition of her place in salvific history and points to Christ.

Pope Francis meets with Coptic Orthodox Pope  Tawadros II

One of the lesser appreciated virtues of Vatican II is for the Roman Catholic Church to appreciate the riches from the Eastern Church. It is worth noting that when Pope Francis (as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio) was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he also acted as the Ordinary of the Eastern Rite Catholics in the region. Cardinal Bergoligio was known for trying to close the 1000 year estrangement with the Orthodox Christianity and advocated on behalf of the Orthodox while in dialogue with the Argentine government. So it would not be surprising if Pope Francis’ papacy features more appreciation of the riches of Christian faith from the East.

Prayer for the Assumption of Mary
Father in heaven,
all creation rightly gives you praise,
for all life and all holiness come from you.
In the plan of your wisdom
she who bore the Christ in her womb
was raised body and soul in glory to be with him in heaven.
May we follow her example in reflecting your holiness
and join in her hymn of endless love and praise.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

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