The Church and the Assumption of Mary

The Implications for the Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God

In spite of their many other divisions, the vast majority of Christians accept that, at the end of her earthly life, the Blessed Virgin Mary was raised from the dead and received, body and soul, into heaven. This event, although it follows the same sequence as the Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord, is not recorded in Scripture. The Assumption of Our Lady is, however, an integral and necessary element in our understanding of the Faith and of the nature of the Church.

The lack of scriptural mention creates a serious obstacle for those entering the fullness of the Catholic Faith from a Protestant background. Protestantism demands direct Biblical evidence for any doctrine, but in the case of the Assumption this cannot be supplied. While the demand for evidence seems reasonable enough, the mistake which is being made here is the implication that only documentary evidence is acceptable. The scriptural account of Our Lord's own Ascension is testimony to the event, but it is not proof. The reliability and acceptability depends upon the witness, the testimony, of the Apostles, and only secondarily upon the written record. The Apostolic testimony (known as the Holy Tradition) is the primary source of the Faith; it is, like all else connected with the mission of the Incarnate Lord, inseparable from the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not just with the Bible, but with the Lord, Inspirer, and sole true Interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures with whom we have to deal. It is here we must begin.

Those who give great authority to the Scriptures must heed the words of Christ himself: "Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me." (St. John 5:39). The Scriptures are a signpost to salvation, a signpost by which the Holy Spirit points to Christ as the source of salvation - this is true as much of the New Testament as of the Old. Signposts, however, can be turned by men so that they point in the wrong direction, this is why Our Lord did not rely on the Scriptures alone, but promised his disciples the constant presence of the Holy Spirit who would lead them into 'all truth' (St. John 16:13). The Holy Spirit, as a result of his outpouring upon the Church, would not only guide the minds of the disciples, he would bring them the fullness of salvation by enabling them to share together in the risen life of Christ himself.

Salvation comes by incorporation into Christ, hence the Church, the company of those who have been thus incorporated, is the Body of Christ. This term is no mere figure of speech, it is a reality; Christ is made known to the world-by the Holy Spirit - through those whom he indwells. To this kind of reality which renews and transforms our created and 'fallen' condition by the divine grace is given the name 'sacramental' - it is at this point that "... earthly things of heaven partake." Sacramentally we may say, and say truly, that Christ and his Church are one. In baptism as St. Paul says, we die and rise with Christ (Romans 6:3ff); while the Lord himself has assured us, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." and, "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." (St. John 6:53 and 57).

The Church is not, therefore, just a collection of individual believers drawn together by a common interest, it is one body expressing the life of Christ in all its members, both those on earth and those departed from this life. Since it reflects the totality of the life of Christ - of all that Christ offers to mankind in himself - there will be members of the Church who have passed not just beyond this world into a place of 'refreshment, light and of peace,' but those who have already shared the resurrection of Christ (see Matthew 27:52). The Church knows also of one who has not only passed beyond the resurrection but attained to the fullness of deification - the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church cannot be truly the Body of Christ, something is lacking until a representative of redeemed humankind has arrived at that glorification of the creation purposed by the Holy Trinity.

The details of the event of the Assumption of Mary - the mechanics, so to speak - are not disclosed to us. We do not know for sure when this happened or how. What written records exist are comparatively late and somewhat fanciful: they do however hint at a pattern of events passed down by word of mouth and 'written up' at different times and in different places. In these circumstances 'evidence,' in the sense of literary documentation, is of small value since the 'event' of the Assumption, implicit in the Gospel, occurs at that point where the rules of a fallen creation are transcended by the imperatives of the New Creation. The special position accorded to the Mother of God by the Church, as the first of a fallen race to be assumed into heaven and glorified, secures for us both our understanding of the full effect of that New Creation and the destiny to which it leads. At the same time that special position recalls the quality of discipleship required in the Kingdom- "Blessed are they who hear the word of God and do it" - and the height to which cooperation with the will of God raises the redeemed creation.

In Mary, the Mother of God, the whole course, purpose, and fulfillment of Salvation is revealed. The Church has treasured this knowledge within the Holy Tradition, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly (as far as the world is concerned) but true believers must recall constantly and act faithfully upon this knowledge lest, for them, the signpost is moved out of its place.