The Assumption

The Assumption

The Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, Jerusalem.

I was asked an interesting Catholic question today. I thought I would share it along with my answer as it concerns the Assumption, which seems to be one of those things lots of people have questions about!

Here is one of the questions I've been struggling with when it comes to Roman Catholicism. If the assumption of Mary is a dogma that is necessary for one's salvation, and nothing can be added to the deposit of faith the Apostles delivered to their successors, why do we not really see the assumption of Mary much in history and when it does come up it isn't seen as a view necessary for salvation? Thanks for your time. 
 In Christ. 

This is my answer:

On the contrary Michael, we certainly do see the Assumption of Mary in history. In fact the doctrine is specifically the culmination of a long historical process. Apocryphal stories concerned with Mary's death go back to the 3rd Century (called "transitus" stories). Though not reliable as history, they do attest to an early theological interest in the fate of Mary.

There was a feast of the Dormition (literally, the "sleeping" of Mary) from about 430 in Jerusalem, this was later established in Constantinople in 600 and in Rome in 650. St Epiphanius was the first among the Fathers to deal with the question about Mary's death, but speaks somewhat enigmatically. There is evidence of a dual celebration: of Mary's death and then her assumption in Alexandria in the late 6th Century, and the doctrine is explicitly stated in a homily by Theoteknos of Livias from the early 7th Century. Certainly by the 8th Century the Assumption was fully accepted in the East. However, in the West, the picture was somewhat more varied, partly through the influence of negative comments in works erroneously ascribed to Augustine and Jerome.

From the 13th century the doctrine has been practically universally held. In the 18th Century, Benedict XIV declared the doctrine "a pious and probable opinion". At the first Vatican Council 200 bishops signed a motion for its definition, and petitions of a similar nature became increasingly frequent in the 20th Century. The doctrine was formally defined in 1950 by Pius XII, supported by the replies of virtually all the bishops, and its definition was greeted by apparently universal satisfaction in the Church. In defining the doctrine, Pius XII expressed the view that it contained a message of hope for all mankind, and that if we look at it closely, we can see at least one reason why this is so, and why what is here asserted of the Blessed Virgin is, for Christians, not really so very extraordinary.

What we call the "Assumption" of the Blessed Virgin is nothing other than her full participation in the glory of her Son's resurrection. It is the Christian hope that, as He, our Head, was raised to a new glorious existence in His full humanity (Body & Soul), we who are united with Him as members of His Body will share in a similar resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:20-25). Since this is so, it is clear that what is here asserted of Mary in the doctrine of the Assumption is fundamentally nothing more than what is promised to all the faithful. In proclaiming Mary's assumption into heaven, the Church is simply asserting that she has already arrived at the goal towards which the whole Church is making its way. It is proclaiming that in Mary the Christian hope is already an achieved reality.

Pope Pius XII, addressing your concerns regarding Apostolic deposit directly, stated that all the "proofs and considerations of the Holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon the Sacred Scriptures as their ultimate foundation". He appealed principally to the faith of the Church rather than any particular biblical text as the basis of the definition. Many theologians consider Revelation 12 on the great sign in heaven as the chief scriptural witness to the doctrine. The Pope speaks of the union between the Son and the Mother, especially during the infancy of Jesus. This union must have continued beyond the grave: "it seems impossible" to think of her bodily separated from Him. Recalling the filial duty which bound the Redeemer "to honour not only His eternal Father, but also His beloved Mother," Pius concludes, "And since it was within His power to grant her this great honour, we must believe that He really acted in this way."

You might also like to look at what Pope John Paul II had to say about the Assumption:

40. After the events of the Resurrection and Ascension Mary entered the Upper Room together with the Apostles to await Pentecost, and was present there as the Mother of the glorified Lord. She was not only the one who "advanced in her pilgrimage of faith" and loyally persevered in her union with her Son "unto the Cross," but she was also the "handmaid of the Lord," left by her Son as Mother in the midst of the infant Church: "Behold your mother." Thus there began to develop a special bond between this Mother and the Church. For the infant Church was the fruit of the Cross and Resurrection of her Son. Mary, who from the beginning had given herself without reserve to the person and work of her Son, could not but pour out upon the Church, from the very beginning, her maternal self-giving. After her Son's departure, her motherhood remains in the Church as maternal mediation: interceding for all her children, the Mother cooperates in the saving work of her Son, the Redeemer of the world. In fact the Council teaches that the "motherhood of Mary in the order of grace...will last without interruption until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect." With the redeeming death of her Son, the maternal mediation of the handmaid of the Lord took on a universal dimension, for the work of redemption embraces the whole of humanity. Thus there is manifested in a singular way the efficacy of the one and universal mediation of Christ "between God and men" Mary's cooperation shares, in its subordinate character, in the universality of the mediation of the Redeemer, the one Mediator. This is clearly indicated by the Council in the words quoted above.
"For," the text goes on, "taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving role, but by her manifold acts of intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal salvation." With this character of "intercession," first manifested at Cana in Galilee, Mary's mediation continues in the history of the Church and the world. We read that Mary "by her maternal charity, cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their happy homeland." In this way Mary's motherhood continues unceasingly in the Church as the mediation which intercedes, and the Church expresses her faith in this truth by invoking Mary "under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix and Mediatrix."

41. Through her mediation, subordinate to that of the Redeemer, Mary contributes in a special way to the union of the pilgrim Church on earth with the eschatological and heavenly reality of the Communion of Saints, since she has already been "assumed into heaven." The truth of the Assumption, defined by Pius XII, is reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which thus expresses the Church's faith: "Preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory upon the completion of her earthly sojourn. She was exalted by the Lord as Queen of the Universe, in order that she might be the more thoroughly conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Rev. 19:16) and the conqueror of sin and death." In this teaching Pius XII was in continuity with Tradition, which has found many different expressions in the history of the Church, both in the East and in the West.
By the mystery of the Assumption into heaven there were definitively accomplished in Mary all the effects of the one mediation of Christ the Redeemer of the world and Risen Lord: "In Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Cor. 15:22-23). In the mystery of the Assumption is expressed the faith of the Church, according to which Mary is "united by a close and indissoluble bond" to Christ, for, if as Virgin and Mother she was singularly united with him in his first coming, so through her continued collaboration with him she will also be united with him in expectation of the second; "redeemed in an especially sublime manner by reason of the merits of her Son," she also has that specifically maternal role of mediatrix of mercy at his final coming, when all those who belong to Christ "shall be made alive," when "the last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:26)."
Connected with this exaltation of the noble "Daughter of Sion" through her Assumption into heaven is the mystery of her eternal glory. For the Mother of Christ is glorified as "Queen of the Universe." She who at the Annunciation called herself the "handmaid of the Lord" remained throughout her earthly life faithful to what this name expresses. In this she confirmed that she was a true "disciple" of Christ, who strongly emphasized that his mission was one of service: the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). In this way Mary became the first of those who, "serving Christ also in others, with humility and patience lead their brothers and sisters to that King whom to serve is to reign," and she fully obtained that "state of royal freedom" proper to Christ's disciples: to serve means to reign!
"Christ obeyed even at the cost of death, and was therefore raised up by the Father (cf. Phil. 2:8-9). Thus he entered into the glory of his kingdom. To him all things are made subject until he subjects himself and all created things to the Father, that God may be all in all (cf. 1 Cor. 15:27-28)." Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, has a share in this Kingdom of the Son. The glory of serving does not cease to be her royal exaltation: assumed into heaven, she does not cease her saving service, which expresses her maternal mediation "until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect." Thus, she who here on earth "loyally preserved in her union with her Son unto the Cross," continues to remain united with him, while now "all things are subjected to him, until he subjects to the Father himself and all things." Thus in her Assumption into heaven, Mary is as it were clothed by the whole reality of the Communion of Saints, and her very union with the Son in glory is wholly oriented towards the definitive fullness of the Kingdom, when "God will be all in all."
In this phase too Mary's maternal mediation does not cease to be subordinate to him who is the one Mediator, until the final realization of "the fullness of time," that is to say until "all things are united in Christ" (cf. Eph. 1:10). Pope John Paul II - Redemptoris Mater

Does this help at all?

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