Did Mary's Assumption Really Occur?

July-August 2008By Hurd Baruch

Hurd Baruch, a retired attorney living in Tucson, Arizona, is the author of Light on Light: Illuminations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Mystical Visions of the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (Maxkol Communications, 2004).

Ed. Note: The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is August 15.

What happened to the mother of Jesus Christ at the end of her life? The answer you get depends upon whom you ask. "Nothing unusual," say Protestants. "A miracle! She was taken directly to Heaven!" say Catholics -- at least those who know that Pope Pius XII solemnly proclaimed the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a dogma that all Catholics must believe: "The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory" (Munificen­tissimus Deus, #44; reaffirmed at Vatican II in Lumen Gentium, #59).

Catholics who are accustomed to meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary might assume that all of the 20 events memorialized therein can be found in the Gospels, or at least elsewhere in the New Testament, but the Assumption is an exception to the rule. Not only is there no eyewitness account or even an unattributed description of the Assumption in Scripture, there is absolutely no hint of it. By way of comparison, see the accounts of the Ascension of Christ given in the Acts of the Apostles (1:6-12) and the Gospel of Luke (24:50-53), which have the Apostles as witnesses looking on as Christ rises up to Heaven.

What, then, lies behind the mystery of the Assumption? Did it really take place? There are two ways to approach an answer to this question. The first is to search the historical record for some credible account, with the expectation of finding at least a summary of the facts in Munificentissimus Deus (MD), the apostolic constitution on the Assumption promulgated by Pius XII in 1950. There we find the dogma set forth in the concluding sentence quoted above, without a description of the happening itself. Yet there are statements scattered throughout the document that allow us to establish a bare-bones chronology. First, Mary died. That may seem to go without saying, but the Old Testament records that two people, Enoch and Elijah, were assumed bodily into Heaven while they were still living (Gen. 5:24 and 2 Kgs. 2:11, respectively); also, some early writers questioned whether Mary had really died or merely fallen asleep. And so the phrase "Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary" came to be used and still is, although it carries the latter connotation.1

From the beginning, Christians, like their Jewish predecessors, believed that the soul parted from the body immediately upon death.2 There was never any question but that Mary’s soul went directly to Heaven; the issue was what happened to her body. As to that, Pius XII declared that "her sacred body had never been subject to the corruption of the tomb" (MD, #14). That itself would not seem remarkable, as there have been instances of the bodies of saints being disinterred and found incorrupt after lying in a grave for many years. The incorruptibility of Mary’s body flowed naturally and as a matter of course from two settled dogmas.

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

Back to July-August 2008 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
The Assumption is a dogma of the Church. Therefore it happened. What purpose then does a long pro and con dissertation serve? It is scandalous to even discuss it. Ratzingers tortured, ambiguous musings? Degrees of canonization? Mary is the Immaculate Conception, free from that which bought death into the world. It is pretty simple isn't it? The mystery would therefore be if her body were allowed to remain dead. Emmerich's visions lack "polemics against and haranguing of Jews" and that "lends credibility"? Why? The Jews rejected Christ, and they fight him even to this day. "he came unto his own and his own received him not". To miss this is to miss the essence of Christ's mission. I am an Emmerich fan, but c'mon... We beleive in the Assumption because we must, lest me become formal heretics and lose our salvation. Posted by: mulligan
July 19, 2008 02:57 PM EDT
I found this to be an intersting and possibly useful explanation of what I think is the Mystery of the Rosary least documented in the New Testament. This may enlighten non-Catholic questioners who sincerely want to understand us. This article should be added to one of your archives for easy reference. Posted by: joreill
July 21, 2008 11:31 AM EDT
With respect to joreill (above), those who "sincerely" (being of good wiil) want to understand us (I assume you mean the Church) will accept the dogma. Christ said to accept Him as "a little child". Faith must precede understanding; this has been to teaching of the Fathers. This modern need of mutual understanding (with those in error) has done nothing to promote the truth. Ambiguity leads to doubt, leads to confusion, leads to effeminate "bishops" giving communion to garisly painted men wearing dresses. What should be stressed and written about is the necessity of accepting all of these dogmas in order to be saved. Posted by: mulligan
July 29, 2008 09:04 AM EDT
I found this article enriching and profound! Hurd Baruch states the Catholic position in the first paragraph; there was never any doubt about what Catholics are to teach or believe. This article wonderfully reminds and exhorts Catholics as to the beauty and riches of our glorious Mother Mary, our Queen and constant support! As to the concerns of critics above, what about St. Thomas Aquinas's expositions on the Eucharist (transubstantiation, etc)? Do his expositions presume to PROVE an already existing dogma and 12 centuries of Eucharistic faith? No. They are an atempt to help believers delve more deeply into that Most Holy Mystery. And expositions such as this have been done throughout the centuries by saints and faithful, not to prove our Faith but to highlight it, enhance it, and rejoice in it! Thank you Hurd Baruch, for your work and NOR for publishing it. Critics, thank you for your concerns, but I think in this case you can relax a bit and enjoy the praises given to our Queen and Mother. Posted by:
August 07, 2008 08:54 AM EDT
Wow! I have spent four years in an Eastern US diaconate progam, and NOT ONCE, either in Christology or Church History classes, did we ever approach, not only the Virgin Mary, but this subject.

Let me also echo tomreynold's words from above: "Thank you, Hurd Baruch for your work, and for NOR for publishing it". I'm copying it, and keeping it my archives for references, prehaps even to quote it in a homily after diaconate ordination.

I guess it shows you that the professsors and priests in some of our seminaries and diaconate programs think the BVM is NOT important. I've heard stories of priests who graduated from seminaries in the liberal dioceses of the America DON'T know how to say the rosary!

As a matter of fact, I'm thinking that, over the past four years, my classmates and I have never recited the rosary at any of our yearly retreats, or in classes! And aside from myself, I have only seen one of my classmates carrying a rosary.
Posted by: Pozzi
August 07, 2008 04:00 PM EDT
I am wondering why a great and greatly accepted resource on Mary, The Mystical City of God by Venerable Mary of Agreda, was not used as a reference in this article? Posted by: kenaydlott
September 25, 2008 04:59 PM EDT
Re Mulligan's first comment: Why is it scandalous to discuss the details of dogma? The Catholic religion is a balance of faith and reason -- not faith operating in a vaccuum. The Church nowhere teaches blind obedience, not even of dogmas. We have to *understand* what we believe in order to share it with others.

This is a fascinating article on a worthy topic. Moreover, it's a historical event. Catholics shouldn't be afraid to investigate their religion -- *not* to do so is a scandal. We should even consider the claims of our detractors -- in order to be able to better refute them. Don't close the Catholic mind.
Posted by: Jack_Straw
September 22, 2009 02:58 PM EDT
Add a comment