Updated: Apr 2
By Luke Lancaster
The Assumption of Mary states that the Mother of Jesus was brought up to Heaven by Jesus bodily. Mary, then, was the first follower of Jesus to experience the bodily resurrection. Where does this idea come from, though? Let's examine this through Scripture and Tradition.
The principal text that indicates Mary's Assumption into Heaven would be Revelation 12. The text reads, "And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery...she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne" (Rev. 12:1-2, 5). Let's ask ourselves this question: What woman gives birth to a child who rules the world?
Well, Psalms 2 speaks of God and His "anointed" one (Ps. 2:2), who is actually God's "son" (Ps. 2:7), and who destroys the nations with a "rod of iron" (Ps. 2:9). This seems to be Jesus, the "Messiah" (Gk: "Anointed One"). The New Testament actually references this text as referring to Jesus (See Acts 13:33). So, when Revelation 12 mentions a child who is to be associated with God - and will rule the nations with a rod of iron - it should ring a bell. This is Jesus. But, there's a woman who gives birth to Jesus...
Literally speaking, Mary is the woman of Revelation 12. She is this crowned, shining woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet. Notice the very human-like descriptions of her, though. She has "feet" (there's a moon underneath them) and has a "head" (there's a crown above it). This description is very odd, for everybody else described in Heaven is just a "soul." Revelation 6:9 says, "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne." Those in Heaven have not experienced the resurrection of their earthly bodies, yet. But the woman of Revelation 12 seems to have!
There are actually a number of writers in the early centuries of the Church that refer to Mary's Assumption into Heaven. For example, in around 300 AD, one Christian writer says, “As you [Jesus], having overcome death, do reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your Mother and take her with you, rejoicing, into heaven. Then said the Savior: ‘Be it done according to your will’” (Pseudo-Melito, The Passing of the Virgin,16:2–17). Mary was taken up into Heaven according to this early Christian writer. He is definitely not alone, though.
There are actually multiple stories like this in the early Church, called the "transitus" literature. In multiple countries throughout the Mediterranean world, there exist descriptions of Mary's bodily entrance into Heaven. This is detailed in the book, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by Fr. Michael O'Carroll. He says of the transitus literature - and in particular, one piece of literature found in Syria - that, "Much still remains to be explored. The Syriac fragments have increased importance, being put as far back as the third century by one commentator. The whole story will eventually be placed earlier, probably in the second century." This understanding of how Mary departed from this world was understood and taught by the earliest of Christians, and that is why we do so today as well.
Besides the transitus literature, here are two theologians from the early centuries of Christianity mentioning the doctrine:
Timothy of Jerusalem said: "Therefore the Virgin is immortal to this day, seeing that he who had dwelt in her transported her to the regions of her assumption" (Homily on Simeon and Anna, found in Fr. O’Carroll's book: Theotokos, 388).
St. John the Theologian (c. 400) said: "Then the apostles with great honour laid the body in the tomb, weeping and singing through exceeding love and sweetness. And suddenly there shone round them a light from heaven, and they fell to the ground, and the holy body was taken up by angels into heaven" (The Passing of Mary, first Latin form)
"And her, whose assumption is at this day venerated and worshipped throughout the whole world, let us assiduously entreat that she be mindful of us in the presence of her most pious Son in heaven, to whom is praise and glory through endless ages of ages. Amen." (The Passing of Mary, first Latin form)
As we have seen, both Scripture and Tradition seem to position Mary in Heaven with her body also. This would make sense, for she was the immensely blessed woman who got to be overshadowed with God's OWN PRESENCE in His only begotten Son - Jesus. She shared the same blood as the King of Kings in her womb! It was only natural that Jesus and Mary would be in Heaven together bodily. This is even confirmed by archeology, which still to this day has not found the bones of Mary. If the empty tomb of Jesus proved that He was still alive bodily, so also the empty tomb of Mary should prove that she is still alive bodily as well.