Catholic Q&A: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Catholic Q&A: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

By Fr. Rick Poblocki

What is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is “the Dogma which recognizes the Blessed Virgin Mary’s singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection by which she was taken Body and Soul into heavenly glory, when the course of her earthly life was finished” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, p. 867).

When was the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary declared by the Church?

The Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was solemnly defined and declared by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950.

How did Pope Pius XII define the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

The Holy Father defined the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on November 1, 1950 in the Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, where he wrote:

“We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that 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” (DS 3903).

What type of Feast is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and when is it celebrated in the Catholic Church?

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a Solemnity – that is, a Feast of the highest rank in the Catholic Church.  It is celebrated on August 15th, the date set for it since the year 602 A.D.

Is this Feast Scriptural? It seems like the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is something “invented” by the Catholic Church!  After all, if the dogma of the Assumption was defined only in 1950, doesn’t that mean that Catholics have only believed in the Assumption since that time?

No!  The solemn definition of the dogma took place in 1950!  However, a solemn definition of a dogma like the Assumption can only be proclaimed as a dogma because the Church has always believed throughout the centuries that Our Lady was assumed into heaven.

How did the celebration of the Assumption come about in the Catholic Church?

A very simplified “history” of the Church’s celebration of the Assumption goes like this:

  • As early as 451 AD, the cycle of readings used by the Armenian Church shows evidence of a Feast honoring Our Lady’s exaltation in heaven after her life on earth closes.
  • In 602 AD, the Emperor Maurice established throughout the entire Roman Empire, a celebration that commemorated Our Lady’s passage from this world.  “The Feast of the Dormition of Mary,” as it was known in the East, would eventually come to be known in the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) of the Church as “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”  It should be noted that at this time in both the Church and the Roman Empire, the Feast of  the Theotokos (pronounced Thay-yo-toke-kos, which means, “Mother of God”) was already an established celebration.  The Pausation (Assumption of Mary) was celebrated along with these other “ancient” Marian Feasts: the Purification (February 2), the Annunciation (March 25), and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 8).
  • By 687-701 AD, the Feast of the Assumption was being celebrated in Rome by Pope Sergius – at that time the Assumption was known by the name Pausatio (pronounced pow-sot-see-yo).
  • It was not until the 8th century that the Feast was given the title “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary” in the Gregorian Sacramentally.  Key features of the celebration at the time included: a night procession from the Church of St. Adrian to St. Mary Major in Rome; there was a vigil and fasting, and a special Collect (opening prayer) was used from this time all the way up until 1566.
  • On November 1, 1950, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was solemnly defined as dogma of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius XII.

How do the Eastern Churches speak of Mary’s Assumption and exaltation after the completion of her life on earth?

The Eastern Churches speak of Our Lady’s dormition – that is, her “falling asleep.”  As with the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, which celebrates the Assumption on August 15, Our Lady’s Dormition is celebrated by the Eastern Churches on the same day: August 15.  In the public worship of the Eastern Churches, honor is paid to Our Lady with these words:

“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 (pronounced trow-pare-ere-yon; a troparion is an antiphon, or small prayerful declaration appearing in the Eastern Churches’ public worship), Feast of the Dormition, August 15th; quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 966; cf. note 509).

What happened to Our Lady after the Lord Jesus rose and ascended into heaven?

When dying on the Cross, Our Lord Jesus Christ entrusted the care of His Mother to the “Beloved Disciple,” who is normally identified as St. John the Apostle (John 19:25-27).  After that, the last time Our Lady is mentioned in the Scriptures is the Acts of the Apostles, where she is present with the disciples in the Upper Room, devoting herself, along with them, to prayer in preparation for the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14).  The ancient traditions – mentioned in the Church’s early histories and in its public worship – are divided on what happened to Our Lady in her last days on earth:

  • Regarding where she lived after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension: One tradition says she traveled with St. John and finished her days in Ephesus, in Asia Minor (now present-day Turkey).  Another tradition claims that she lived the rest of her life in Jerusalem.
  • How her life closed: Again, we have two divergent traditions regarding the end of Our Lady’s earthly life.  One tradition says that Our Lady died a natural death; another tradition marks her dormition, or “falling asleep.”  Most importantly, both traditions agree that the Virgin Mary was indeed assumed into heaven at the completion of her life on earth. 
  • The uninterrupted tradition of the Church, as found in the preaching and writings of St. Gregory of Tours (549 AD) and other Fathers of the Church, is the basis for the celebration of Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven, body and soul.  Private revelations of mystics like St. Bridgit of Sweden (aka St. Birgitta Gudmarssonn) and Catherine Emmerich have fed the imagination of the Faithful by claiming in their mystical experiences that Our Lady eventually completed her life in Ephesus.  Weirdly enough, a lot of things these two mystics claim in their mystical experiences have been confirmed in the last few years by archaeological investigations and findings!
  • It should be strongly noted that since the “revelations” of these Saints are considered by the Catholic Church to be “private revelations” that are not part of the Public Revelation communicated to the Church by Our Lord Jesus Christ – such “private revelations” are never binding to the Faithful as is the Public Revelation entrusted by Christ to His Church.

How do we even “know” Our Lady was assumed?

Think about it!  The arguments are quite simple and logical:

  • We have NO RELICS of Our Lady. There is no place in the Catholic Church, the Eastern Churches, or the Orthodox Churches that makes any claim to possess any bones, hair, blood, or any other physical remains of Mary!
  • There is no place that claims to be the actual burial site or grave containing the earthly and physical remains of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  • Of course, the Church sheds infallible light of the matter with Pope Pius XII’s solemn declaration on November 1, 1950 that Our Lady was assumed, body and soul, into the glory of her Divine Son.

If the Bible teaches that everyone will rise from the dead – body and soul – on the Last Day, why would Mary already have that gift from God now?

Mary’s relationship to Christ is UNIQUE; no one else is His Mother!  This unique relationship to the Son of God allows Mary to carry Jesus within her body; as a Mother, she raises Him to manhood, and Mary even shares in His sufferings on the Cross.  Because of this unique and singular relationship to Jesus Christ as His Mother, it only follows that at the completion of her life on earth, Mary would also share – in a unique way – her Son’s resurrected glory.  As the Eastern Churches say:

“…rightly You would not allow her

[Mary] to see the corruption of the tomb since from her own body she marvelously brought forth Your Incarnate Son, the Author of all life.”

Therefore, because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, her Assumption is based upon that singular relationship to Jesus, making her Assumption a singular privilege.

What came about as a result of God raising Mary – body and soul – to the glory of the Assumption?

The Assumption, as a saving act of God, had these effects upon Our Lady:

  • At the completion of her life on earth, Our Lady was taken body and soul into heavenly glory (this means, like her son, the Lord Jesus, Our Lady is already resurrected).
  • She was “exalted by the Lord as the Queen of all things” (CCC, 966).
  • Mary’s exaltation as Queen of all things was brought about by God in order that “she might be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and Conquerer of sin and death” (Cf. CCC, 966; esp. note 508).
  • The Catechism describes Our Lady’s Assumption as a “singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection” (CCC, 966).  “Singular participation” means that the Blessed Virgin holds a unique place in God’s saving plan: first, by becoming the Mother of the Son of God – Who, after uniting her to every aspect of His life on earth – also allowed that union to extend even to the completion of her life on earth, when He allowed her to enter into His resurrected glory.
  • Mary’s Assumption is “an anticipation of the resurrection of [all] other Christians” (CCC, 966).  As a model of what the true disciple of Christ is and should be, Mary’s Assumption into glory and her exultation shows us what God has in store for each of us.

In what way is the Assumption a special privilege that Mary received from God?

The Catechism teaches that “the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the Resurrection of Other Christians” (CCC, 966).  Mary’s singular participation means that no one else in the history of the human race or in God’s saving plan had a place in it like Mary.  Only she became the Mother of God’s Son; as His Mother she shared in His life, ministry, and death.  As His Mother, it would only follow then that in Jesus’ Resurrection and exaltation in the Ascension – Mary, who was part of every aspect of His life, death and glorification, would also share in His resurrected glory.

Does the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary mean that Mary is already “resurrected” right now?

Yes.  The Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heavenly glory means that Mary is already risen from the dead and is living with her Son, Jesus, with a glorified and risen body in heaven.  We will also experience this, when Jesus raises us up on the Last Day – but Mary already possesses this effect of Christ’s saving power because of her unique relationship with the Son of God as both His Mother, AND as a woman of great faith, who carried out the Father’s Will!

Why does the Church use the word “Assumption” instead of speaking of Mary’s Resurrection?

The word “Assumption” is used, instead of speaking about Mary’s Resurrection, because the Church wants it to be clearly understood that while Jesus Himself is the cause of the Resurrection – “I lay down My life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17).  Therefore, Jesus raises Himself up from the dead by His own power as God.  Speaking of Mary’s Assumption indicates that Mary was a recipient of Jesus’ saving power!  Unlike her Son, Mary had no power to raise herself.  Like us, she is a creature dependent on God.  That’s why the Church uses the two different terms.

The phrase “at the completion of her life on earth” is often used; did Our Lady die?

When Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he deliberately did not define whether Our Lady died before her assumption, or if she was simply carried up into heaven from the earth while she was still alive.  Those who believe that Our Lady died are called mortalists, and those who believe she didn’t die are called immortalists.  Eminent thinkers like St. John Paul II suggest that it was most appropriate that Our Lady died in order that she would be in perfect conformity with her Son.  Tradition does seem to favor the opinion that Our Lady died.  Both Jerusalem and Ephesus (a city in present-day Turkey) both claim to be where she spent her last days on earth.

Fr. Rick Poblocki is the Pastor of St. Josaphat’s Parish in Cheektowaga, NY. This article also appears in St. Josaphat’s Weekly Bulletin, available for view in its entirety at Don’t miss Fr. Rick on the Tuesday and Thursday Open Forum Editions of Calling All Catholics, weekdays at 5pm on The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network and the NEW iCatholicRadio App. Used with permission.



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