Is the Assumption of Mary in the Bible?
“You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.”
With great joy the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary annually on Aug. 15. The feast commemorates Mary’s bodily resurrection and glorification of the Lord at the end of her life. By that is meant that her entire being – both body and soul – were taken up into heaven.
So, where do we find that in the Bible?
As with the dogma of her Immaculate Conception, the dogma of the Assumption isn’t explicitly stated in Scripture. This was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950 in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus when he referred to many “holy writers who ... employed statements and various images and analogies of Sacred Scripture to illustrate and to confirm the doctrine of the Assumption....” He explained that he wasn’t manifesting a new doctrine but rather fulfilling his divine commission to “faithfully propose the revelation delivered through the Apostles.” The Church teaches that the dogma of the Assumption was at least implicitly present in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition and therefore is a legitimate sign of the “protection of the Spirit of Truth.”
In the encyclical, Pope Pius XII pointed to several Scripture passages that he believed illustrated the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. Some of them include:
- Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place: thou and the ark, which thou hast sanctified. (Psalm 131:8)
- [The Spouse of Canticles] that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh and frankincense (Canticles 3:6)
- The Woman clothed with the Sun (Revelation 12)
- I will glorify the place of my feet. (Isaiah 61:13)
- Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her beloved? (Canticles 8:5)
When you mediate on these passages in light of the Assumption, the dogma becomes clearer. Biblical scholars often have compared Mary to the bride mentioned in the Canticles and liken the verses that show her arising like incense to her arising like incense to God or leaning on her beloved as being welcomed into heaven. Additionally, Mary was compared to the Ark of the Covenant because she conceived and carried the Eternal Word in her womb. In the Book of Revelation, the Woman of the Apocalypse appeared as ‘a great sign in the heavens.’ In John’s Gospel, Mary is called ‘Woman.’ Revelation 12 could be seen as a poetic description of Mary having entered “into heavenly glory.” In Isaiah 61, the glorification mentioned could refer to Mary’s glorification in heaven.
There are a number of passages that mention Mary directly and could be used as Scripture-based defenses of her Assumption. For example, in Luke 1:28, Mary is described as “full of grace” which would imply that she was exempt from the fourfold curse that had been laid upon Eve in Genesis 3:15. The fourth commandment to honor one’s father and mother (Exodus 20:11) also could apply our Lord’s care for his holy mother, including her body and soul after death. And let’s not forget that the bodily resurrection won by Jesus’ Resurrection mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:54 applies to all believers, including Mary. Both Scripture and Tradition demonstrate Jesus’ closeness to Mary and from this can be surmised that Mary’s share in Jesus’ Resurrection would be equally as close. Based on all of this and more, the Church considers the dogma of Mary’s Assumption to be in accord with the divine truths contained in Scripture.
This dogma is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
‘Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.’ The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians: In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death. (Byzantine Liturgy, Troparion, Feast of the Dormition, August 15th) (CCC 966)
These are all important arguments in favor of the dogma, and we should be aware of them. But there’s a simpler, more commonsense way to look at the Assumption – at least for me. Mary carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. Jesus is the God-Man, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Mary was given a singular privilege to have conceived and bore him within her body. That makes Mary’s body holy in a way that no human body ever could be. Would it make sense for anything less than to have Mary assumed into heaven both body and soul?