There is an old joke that asks, “Is there any proof in the Bible for the Assumption of Mary?” The reply is, “Of course not, it’s the Assumption!” Speaking frankly, the old joke is not far from the truth. There is absolutely nothing conclusively persuasive in either the New Testament or the Old Testament which irrefutably show that the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken from the earth into Heaven. Of course, there are a great many things in which we do believe that are not expressly stated in the Bible.
Prior to the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Church, all Christians believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s body had been taken up into Heaven. The Eastern Orthodox refer to the event as the Dormition of the Theotokos (a term meaning, roughly, the “Mother of God”). The word dormition is translated at the “falling asleep,” a phrase which St. Paul uses repeatedly to refer to one’s death (I Corinthians 15:6, 18, 20; I Thessalonians 4:20). Over the centuries, Eastern Orthodox opinion as to whether her body was taken into Heaven immediately before or immediately after her death has changed repeatedly. While there is not a definitive catechesis or Magisterium for the ethnically varied Orthodox Churches, most Orthodox Christians today believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary died and then was received up into Heaven.
On the other hand, most Roman-Catholic Christians today believe that moments before her death, perhaps even as she was exhaling her very last breath, the Lord prevented His beloved mother from ever truly tasting death and called her, body and soul, to be with Him in paradise. This is ironic since, even though Roman-Catholics do have a definitive catechesis and Magisterium, their teachings are shockingly (and some say purposely) non-committal on the question of whether the Assumption took place before or after the Blessed Virgin Mary’s death. On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII, invoking Papal Infallibility, in which he stated,
“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.”
The document, Munificentissium Deus, declared the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be an infallible dogma of the Roman-Catholic Church. Basically, in order to be a Roman-Catholic, you have to believe this dogma. Failure to believe in the Assumption constitutes apostasy. Thus, while Roman-Catholics have to believe that the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken up into Heaven, the Pope never specified whether or not she had already died. The document simply states, “having completed the course of her earthly life.” Had she crossed the finish line or was she just at the end?
Some readers may have already said to themselves, “Who cares? It’s not in the Bible!” They are technically correct; however several other assumptions are in the Bible. The patriarch Enoch was assumed into Heaven. Enoch was the father of Methuselah, the oldest man in the Bible. In the book Genesis, we hear that “Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” (5:22-24) In a much more vivid and well-known story, the Prophet Elijah was taken up into Heaven in the miraculous chariot of fire. (II Kings 2) There is also a tradition mentioned in the Bible that says Moses was assumed into Heaven. In the Epistle of St. Jude, we read, “Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (v. 9) We know from Holy Scripture that Moses did, in fact, die (Deuteronomy 34:7) so St. Michael the Archangel and Satan must have contended for his body after his death. Therefore, there is a precedent for the Lord taking people into Heaven both before and after their deaths. Thus, there is Biblical precedent behind both the commonly held Roman-Catholic (pre-death) Assumption and the commonly held Eastern Orthodox (post-death) Dormition.
And still there are those who say “Who cares? It’s still not in the Bible!” They must have tremendous confidence in me or they would have quit reading long ago! There is one very persuasive argument in favor of the Assumption, although it is, admittedly, not a Biblical proof. There has never been anyone claiming to have a first class relic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that is to say, no church, cathedral, monastery or basilica has ever claimed to possess any fragment of the bodily remains of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To drive home the point: NOBODY. EVER. It is inconceivable that no one has ever made such a claim. Someone claims to have the head of St. John the Baptist. Multiple churches, at one time or another, have claimed to have the foreskin from Our Lord’s circumcision. Everything else ascended into Heaven. Various churches claim to have the remains of each and every one of the Apostles. If you were to name a classical saint, someone would raise a hand and declare their possession of that saint’s remains. Whether you believe relics are worthy of veneration, respect, curiosity, or just deserve a decent burial is completely beside the point. No one has ever claimed to have the remains of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Why? Because, since the earliest days of Christianity, believers knew and were taught that upon her death, Our Lord took His blessed mother, body and soul, into Heaven. Keep in mind, during the Middle Ages, churches charged admission to see Holy Relics and gave indulgences for seeing those relics. Having a first-class relic of the Mother of God would have made any church a fortune, yet, still, none have ever claimed to have those remains.
Admittedly, there is no specific citation in the Bible that proves the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is also, of course, nothing against it either. The Bible never specifies that any of the Apostles other that St. James the Brother of John actually died. We do not believe they are still walking around today. We assume they died because that makes sense. In the Old Testament, there were three times when the Lord took someone body and soul into Heaven, both before they tasted death (Enoch and Elijah) and immediately afterwards (Moses). The Lord took those three men who walked with Him, whom He called friends, through whom He performed incredible miracles into Heaven. Would anyone say that Enoch knew the Lord better than His own mother? Would anyone assert that Moses was a better friend to God than the Lord’s own mother? Would anyone suggest that all of the miracles of Elijah put together compare to the miracle of the Incarnation? With those questions in mind, why would anyone suggest that Our Lord would not take His own beloved mother into Heaven?
O God, who have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.