August 13, 2004
The Assumption
of the Blessed Virgin Mary

by Jim Van Vurst, O. F. M.

Welcome to Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.! He’s joining our team to help Friar Jack with a monthly message and to answer some of your questions. Friar Jim has been a Franciscan since 1953 and has served in many capacities as a Franciscan priest. He is a skilled and compassionate spiritual director who has helped as a parish priest, in provincial administration and as a hospital and nursing-home chaplain. We are delighted that he’s joining our ministry team in this new role. —John Bookser Feister, editor,


What Is the Doctrine of the Assumption?
Did Mary Actually Die?
What About Our Reunion With Loved Ones?

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Readers reflect on Friar Jack’s musings

What Is the Doctrine of the Assumption?

This dogma (a teaching of the Church that requires belief on the part of all Catholics) states that Mary, body and soul, was taken by God into heaven as the course of her life on earth was completed. Pope Pius XII proclaimed this event to be a doctrine on November 1, 1950. Some wonder whether there is anything in the Bible about this event since they cannot recall the word “Assumption” being used. As a matter of fact, there is no such word “Assumption” in the Scriptures. And for some people, unless the exact word is in the Bible, it can’t really be called God’s revealed truth.

However, what we have in the Church, besides the Scriptures, is the Sacred and Spirit-inspired Tradition of the Church regarding some of its most basic teachings. The doctrine of Mary’s Assumption is based on what is called a theological conclusion because of other indirect references to it in the Scriptures. For example, at the Annunciation (celebrated March 25th, nine months before December 25th), the Angel Gabriel declared Mary to be “full of Grace” and “God’s highly favored daughter” (Lk 1:28). Mary conceived Jesus, the Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit as a consequence of accepting God’s plan for her. Further, when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who herself was pregnant with John the Baptist, she addressed Mary with the words, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:42). All these biblical statements led the Church to conclude that because of her role as Mother of the Messiah, Mary would be preserved from original sin and its consequences. Her freedom from sin was accomplished by reason of Jesus’ foreseen redemptive death on the cross. As such it would not be possible for Mary, whose womb carried the Son of God, to suffer the corruption of the body that all people experience after death.

Did Mary Actually Die?

But that brings up another point. What is death? We see it as the end of a person’s life when the body disintegrates into dust later to be resurrected at the Last Judgment. But death is also a passage from one state of life (on earth) to another state of existence (in eternity). The Church has not said whether Mary died or not. It says only that Mary made the transition from this temporal life into eternity with God. The fact that Jesus himself died on the cross would not exclude Mary’s dying, and, in fact, is an argument for some that Mary experienced death herself in imitation of her son. We just don’t know. The significant issue is that, like Jesus, her body did not suffer corruption.

What About Our Reunion With Loved Ones?

Are there practical implications of this doctrine for us? Very much so. Try to imagine the reunion between Mary and Jesus at that moment of transition when she was assumed into heaven. Then, too, picture her reunion with Joseph, her beloved husband, with her mother and father (traditionally named St. Ann and St. Joachim). That is the point. Heaven is not only a state of union with God, the greatest union of all, but also a reunion with all our loved ones. What a celebration that will be! When we have a deep longing within our hearts for our blessed family reunion, we experience the touch of God himself. It was with Mary, too, as she finished her journey on earth and anticipated a heavenly reunion with her Son, Jesus, and her husband, Joseph. Mary’s Assumption tells us what you and I have to look forward to in our own wonderful reunions.

Friar Jack’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack's musings on “O Stay, O Stay, Emmanuel!”

Dear Friar Jack: Your e-spirations are always interesting and inspiring to me. Today’s in particular touched me because you are speaking about Christ with us. I am shocked at how many Catholics do not really believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I believe and am thankful and awe-struck at His humility to take the form of bread and wine just to remain close to His faithful. I strive daily to be worthy of Him and know that He wants me to turn to Him even though I will forever fall short of my goal. Thank you for your teachings. I always learn and have more to think and pray about after reading them. Diane

Dear Friar Jack: Your article describes the Eucharist as a celebration or meal with Jesus very well. This is the way I feel when I take communion during the week or Sunday mornings. Thanks for describing what the Eucharist really means for me! Sheridan

Dear Friar Jack: I received your email and thought I would reply. The day I read it I was a little down thinking of all that has taken place this year in my life. I’m coping with the death of my younger brother who died suddenly in December. A fatal heart attack while jogging at the age of 56. When I read your email I was uplifted in knowing that no matter what we go through Jesus is here and loving us. I think the older we get in life, our relationship with Jesus changes. My faith means more to me now than ever before. I truly believe that good will overcome evil and there are many good people in this world. I wanted you to know that your email truly touched me and reassured me of how much our savior loves me. Thank you for your words and may Jesus always hold you close to His sacred heart. Carol

Dear Friar Jack: I’m surprised at you. I assume you are better Theologically trained and more versed in Church traditions than I, yet even I know that the ritual of extinguishing the candle was to signify the physical rather than the metaphysical departure of Christ. Perfectly clear to me! God Bless. Jim

Dear Jim: I’m not so sure your distinction between physical and metaphysical is totally on track. If it’s the risen Jesus who is with us in the Eucharist, is his risen body totally without physical qualities? Thomas the Apostle, who touched Jesus’ wounded hands and side, might not apply your distinction with the same confidence as you. Peace and God’s Blessing! Friar Jack

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