Mary's assumption

Concerning Mary’s assumption, I was always led to believe that she was assumed into heaven while she was still alive. I heard a priest today say that it doesn’t make a difference whether she was alive or dead at the time of her assumption, that we could believe either of these things and we would be ok, is this correct?

Also he stated that heaven is not a place but a state (state of being?)?

I understand that we may not be able to know these things but what does the Catholic Church really say about them?

The Church states only that Mary was assumed “at the end of her earthly life”. The Church does not definitively teach on whether she died or not. So your pastor is correct.

Regarding heaven:

  1. he is correct.

  2. If Heaven were a place, like North America, Honduras, or even the moon, it would (theoretically) be possible to “travel” there while maintaining our normal being. It is not. Therefore, Heaven is not a “place” as we understand it.


Since the Church is deliberately ambiguous on the topic, a Catholic is free to believe either way.

I was once of your same opinion - that Mary was assumed without experiencing death. But then I read a differing opinion - that Mary would have wanted to follow her Son in all of his earthly suffering, including death. It is thus more fitting that she experienced death, as did her Son.

And that makes a lot of sense to me.

Many priests, and I, personally, believe most, will tell you Mary almost certainly died or else she would not have been human. All humans die. I realize Mary was without sin, but so was her Son. He died. It is safe to assume, I believe, that Mary, too, died, and was then assumed body and soul into Heaven.

Eastern Churches, Catholic or Orthodox, teach without any ambiguity that Our Lady first died and then shared in the resurrection of Her Son. The Eastern equivalent of the feast of the Assumption is the feast Dormition, which means the “falling asleep” of Mary. The tradition of the Assumption is based on the tradition of the Dormition. The feast of the Dormition is much older than the feast of the Assumption. All the earliest accounts agree that Our Lady first fell asleep (died in the body), then was raised from the dead and taken into Heaven. The idea that Our Lady was taken up into Heaven directly is a novelty that hasn’t existed for more than a few centuries. St Mary’s Major in Rome depicts the Dormition of Mary in its iconography. Even in the encyclical in which Pope Pius promulgated the dogma of the Assumption, the Pope assumes Mary’s death. Yes, the dogmatic decree itself is ambiguous on this point, but the encyclical as a whole is not.
No it is not dogma that Our Lady first died before Her Assumption, but it is the universal ancient tradition of the Church. Personally I am scandalized by the idea that Our Lady would be deprived the great honor and glory of sharing in the resurrection. If the Church teaches that all the saints must first die and then be raised to glory on the Last Day, why shouldn’t Our Lady be thus perfectly conformed to Her Son?
In ecumenical discussions it is also scandalous to the Orthodox to deny the ancient universal tradition of the Dormition.

While Mary was a “human” she did not ever sin in the slightest so was NOT under the penalty of death. Jesus died for OUR sins. We do NOT know exactly what took place at the moment of Mary’s leaving this earth. I think that moment was SOOOO precious to God and her that we are not privileged to know it. There has never been a tomb for Mary. If she died as we do and as her SON did, then her soul would have had to leave her body.We know that Jesus’ soul left His body and went to Abraham’s Bosom. Within moments after earthly death, the body starts to break down, (decompose). Her soul would not have been able to stay within it. Mary was Assumed into Heaven Body and Soul together !! To me the idea of her wanting to “die” because her SON did doesn’t make any sense. She didn’t want to be crucified because HE did or be scourged as HE was. And to top it all off, the Church does NOT teach that Mary died. That’s enough for me. God Bless, Memaw PS Many priest do not believe Mary died, in fact the priest at our RCIA said she did not die and the Church does not teach that she did. Someone asked that question. I was a Sponsor for a friend.

I appreciate your opinion, but I do KNOW all that. I am a professor of theology at a Catholic College.

The Doctrine of the Assumption does not specify whether Mary died or not prior to being assumed, body and soul into heaven. Certainly Mary is the most exalted of all human beings.

However, the general feeling in the Catholic Church is that Mary DID DIE. From this site:

"The Church has never formally defined whether she died or not, and the integrity of the doctrine of the Assumption would not be impaired if she did not in fact die, but the almost universal consensus is that she did die. Pope Pius XII, in Munificentissimus Deus (1950), defined that Mary, “after the completion of her earthly life” (note the silence regarding her death), “was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven.”

To me, “almost universal consensus” means MOST, the GREAT MAJORITY OF priests, bishops, and theologians believe that Mary DID die, something that takes NOTHING away from Mary herself or her purity which existed from the moment of her conception.

How do you know her soul separated from her body? It may not have. God can do anything. He created Mary sinless. He could have created her so that she was assumed prior to any separation of body and soul. No one can say with certainty whether Mary died or not, but the ALMOST UNIVERSAL CONSENSUS is that she DID, in fact, die.

ALMOST UNIVERSAL CONSENSUS is NOT Infallible. If the Pope would have wanted that to be an Infallible teaching I am sure he would have included it in his his Infallible Dogma of the Assumption. I am nearly 80 years old and I had NEVER heard of Mary having died until maybe the past 30 or so years. I know many priest that do NOT say she died. So your guess is as good as mine for now. Personally I’d rather she didn’t have to die if it was up to me. We’ll find out when we get there! God Bless, Memaw

Adam and Eve were human too and they would not have died if they hadn’t sinned. Death is a result of sin. Jesus died for OUR sins. God Bless, Memaw

Why is the church deliberately ambiguous about it?

If they don’t know the answer…they would just say so, wouldn’t they?

But if they know, what would be the reason for being deliberately ambiguous about such an important moment for such an important person?


Yes, death is a result of sin, and Mary was sinless. But so was Christ. I used to think Mary did not die as well, but the great majority of priests, bishops, and theologians say yes, she did, even though they do believe in the Doctrine of the Assumption (which is dogma, too, of course). When phrasing the doctrine, the Church was careful to side-step the issue of whether or not Mary died. I think we are free to believe she died or did not die as along as we believe in her assumption.

Mary told one visionary - I don’t think it was Fatima, it could have been Medugogie - that she lived for fifteen years after Jesus’ crucifixion, then died. At least that’s what the visionary said. The Church has yet to put its stamp of approval on the visions of Medugogie, although it calls them “cautiously optimistic.” It might come from the writing of Blessed A.C. Emmerich or St. Faustina, although Christ appeared to her, not the Blessed Virgin.

Anyway, Memaw, I’m sure it’s fine if you continue to believe Mary did not die. It makes sense to me since she was sinless. I, myself, just say, “I don’t know, but I do hope to find out some day when I meet her.”

In this week’s bulletin:
The Holy Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Holy Mary, Mother of God, we believe in your triumphant assumption into heaven where the angels and the saints praise you and bless the Lord who raised you above all creatures. With them we offer you our devotion and love.

Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.

Celebrated every year on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary commemorates the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven ---- a foretaste of our own bodily resurrection at the end of time. Because it signifies the Blessed Virgin’s passing into eternal life, this feast is the most important of all Marian feasts.

This feast was originally celebrated in the Eastern Church, where it is known as the Feast of the Dormition, a word which means “the falling asleep.”

The earliest printed reference to the belief that Mary’s body was assumed into Heaven dates form the fourth century, in a document entitled “The Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God.” This document is written in the voice of the Apostle John, to whom Christ on the Cross had entrusted the care of His Mother, and recounts the death, the lying in the tomb, and the assumption of the Blessed Virgin. In the Eastern Church, the Assumption was mentioned in sermons of St. Andrew of Crete, St. John Damascene,
St. Modestus of Jerusalem,and others.In the West, St. Gregory of Tours was the first to mention it.

During the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451, Emperor Marcian and his wife Pulcheria requested that they be given the relics of the Mother of God. St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, told them that Mary had died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened at the request of St. Thomas three days after her burial, was found empty. The Apostles then concluded that the Virgin’s body had been assumed into heaven.

According to the life of St. Theodosius, who died in the year 529, Mary’s Assumption was celebrated in Palestine before the year 500. Lutheran scholar Charles Dickson writes that “the feast (of the Assumption) celebrated by the Church on August 15, dates from the fourth century, when numerous festivals honoring our Lady were common practice.” He adds, "Interestingly enough, the sixteenth-century Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, included this feast on a list of liturgical celebrations that should, in his words, ‘be observed among Evangelical Catholics as a sign of continuity and order.’ "

Memaw, the Dormition (falling asleep, meaning death in the body) of Our Lady is not at all a new idea. It is very, very ancient - as I and acadiANNA pointed out in earlier posts. You may not have come across the idea earlier in your life, but that’s only because the idea of Mary being assumed directly into heaven, without experiencing death, was popular for a time in the Latin Church. The dogma of the Assumption does not clarify one way or the other whether Our Lady died, but all of the earliest references to the Assumption among the Church Fathers also speak of Her Dormition, Her death. It is fitting that Mary, while without sin, should share in the death of Her Son, as all the saints must, and so then share in His resurrection. When I was in Rome at St. Mary’s Major, the most important church dedicated to Our Lady in the entire Catholic world, I noticed a very large depiction of Our Lady in her tomb with the apostles all around Her body. Then as my eyes moved up I saw that the image continued show Her, now resurrected, being assumed into heavenly glory. This is a very old church. This is our tradition. No it isn’t dogma…but it is the general consensus. Pope Pius XII himself in Munificentissimus Deus, the encyclical where he defined the dogma of the Assumption, references the tradition of Mary’s Dormition, Her earthly death. No one is saying it is Dogma…just that it is a very ancient and very common tradition of the Church. Long before the Western Church celebrated the feast of the Assumption, the Eastern Church was celebrating the feast of the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Mother of God.
And no Her body would not have seen decay. Nor did the Lord’s. As the Psalmist says nor wilt then give thy holy one to see corruption.

  1. Catholics may acceptably hold either position at the moment.
  2. However there has always been a solid Catholic teaching that Mary died.
  3. There has never been a solid teaching that Mary did not die. This unorthodox pious view only arose only in the last 300 years or so amongst Western Catholics

Many lay Catholics will find the first two statements above incompatible with each other.
This is because we “moderns” suffer from “black and white thinking” when it comes to Church teaching. We think that if we are allowed to have contrary views on something then that means there can be no clear or certain Church teaching on the matter.

This is a mistaken understanding.
It is clear that the view that Mary did not die is merely tolerated by the Magisterium.
Recent Popes have stated as much.

While many know that Munificentissimus Deus formally defined the Assumption…few know that the same Encyclical clearly stated three times that Mary died.
The fact of her death was purposely left out of the formal definition of the Assumption as a matter of compassionate toleration.
We can expect it to be formally declared some day in the future by the Magisterium which has always held this view from the year dot. That day will no doubt come sooner if more people start stubbornly denying this traditional papal teaching.

This topic has been thoroughly discussed with supporting references here on Catholic Answers:

The following quotes may assist further:

Encyclical Munificentissimus Deus (Pope Pious XII)
General Audience 1997 of Pope JPII the Great.

*(a) MD17 " …to cite an illustrious example, this is set forth in that sacramentary which Adrian I, our predecessor of immortal memory, sent to the Emperor Charlemagne. …“Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten your Son our Lord incarnate from herself.”

(b) MD17 “The holy Fathers and the great Doctors…presented it more clearly. They offered more profound explanations of its meaning and nature, bringing out into sharper light the fact that this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death…”

© JPII:The Council uses the terms of The Bull defining the dogma of the Assumption and states: “The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over” (Lumen gentium, n. 59). With this formula, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, following my Venerable Predecessor Pius XII, made no pronouncement on the question of Mary’s death. Nevertheless, Pius XII did not intend to deny the fact of her death, but merely did not judge it opportune to affirm solemnly the death of the Mother of God as a truth to be accepted by all believers.

(d) JPII: Some theologians have in fact maintained that the Blessed Virgin did not die and and was immediately raised from earthly life to heavenly glory. However, this opinion was unknown until the 17th century, whereas a common tradition actually exists which sees Mary’s death as her entry into heavenly glory.*

Like I said before, Christ died for OUR sins, NOT His, (he didn’t have any!!!) And I don’t put any stock in unapproved visions, apparitions etc. At least now I have an idea where your coming from. I have never heard or read it in anything about Fatima or the writings of St. Faustina. NO one, not even the Church knows for sure what happened at that precious moment. Like I said before, I go with the Church. God Bless, Memaw

I don’t put any stock in unapproved visions, either, Memaw, but sometimes I wonder if we should give people the benefit of the doubt and just hope they are telling the truth. After all, the children at Fatima were dismissed for quite some time, and I believe St. Faustina was, too. At the moment, though, I put no stock in the visions said to be going on in Medugogie. They have not been approved by the Church.

I agree with you. The Church does not really know with certainty. It does not know what happens at the moment anyone dies. That’s why the Church says it can’t say with certainty that anyone is in hell. They could have repented with their dying breath.

It is not the first thing I am going to ask her when I see her. I just don’t think it would be polite… or any of my business…

This is the house in which the Blessed Mother was supposed to have lived her final years with the Apostle John and in which she died:

It wouldn’t be my first question, either. I don’t know what my first question would be.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit