There’s something about Mary

The feast of the Assumption of Mary is celebrated annually on August 15. But even amongst Catholics, there are some unknowns about Mary’s life.

One misconception is that Mary did not die. Many Catholics think she never died, but Pope Pius XII made it clear in his 1950 encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus (the most bountiful God) that Mary did indeed die.


The encyclical proclaims that “Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule. She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body.


“Thus, when it was solemnly proclaimed that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, was from the very beginning free from the taint of original sin, the minds of the faithful were filled with a stronger hope that the day might soon come when the dogma of the Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven would also be defined by the Church’s supreme teaching authority.”


Another misconception is that Jesus wasn’t assumed into heaven. The Second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary is the Ascension of Jesus and the fourth is the Assumption of Mary. The critical difference between the Ascension and Assumption is that Mary was taken up into Heaven, while Christ ascended by His own Divine power.


Also, Mary was not the only person to be assumed into Heaven. At least two other people in Scripture are traditionally believed to be assumed into heaven. The Old Testament hints that Enoch was assumed (Genesis 5:24), and the New Testament says so explicitly (Hebrews 11:5). The Old Testament says that Elijah was assumed (2 Kings 2:11).


Every time a woman falls pregnant, her child leaves some cells in her body, even if the child later dies in the womb. This means that Mary carried the Blood of Christ within her always. We receive the Eucharist, and carry Christ within us temporarily, but Mary was never wholly separated from Him, even physically.


A depiction of the end of Mary’s life, found on one of the main doors of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, states, “There Mary is surprisingly portrayed as falling, as if she were definitively letting go of all the trials and sufferings of this life and allowing herself to fall asleep. Indeed, she is letting go of life itself as she passes from this world to the next. It is just at this moment of abandoning herself into the Father’s hands that the angels rush down to catch her and bring her up to Heaven.”


Meanwhile, as a theme in Christian art, depiction of the Assumption originated in western Europe during the late Middle Ages — a period when devotion to the Virgin Mary increased in importance.


Since the 13th century, the Assumption has been widely represented in church decoration, and during the Renaissance and Baroque periods it became a popular subject for altarpieces. Characteristic representations show the Virgin, in an attitude of prayer and supported by angels, ascending above her open tomb, around which the Apostles stand in amazement. 


Hail Mary, 
Full of Grace, 
The Lord is with thee. 
Blessed art thou among women, 
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus. 
Holy Mary, 
Mother of God, 
pray for us sinners now, 
and at the hour of our death.



Image: Assumption of the Virgin (Titian 1516) in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.

Image: Pope Pius XII.


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