Today is the Feast of the Assumption, in which we Catholics celebrate that the Virgin Mary, at the conclusion of her earthly life, was taken up into Heaven, body and soul. For Protestants and even many Catholics, it’s a hard doctrine to swallow. Here are five reasons that I believe in it (besides the fact that the Church infallibly teaches it):
1. There are No Positive Arguments Against the Assumption of Mary
What I mean here is simply that there’s nothing Christians should be shocked or scandalized by. Nothing in the dogma of the Assumption of Mary is contrary to anything taught in Christianity. The best arguments against the Assumption tend to be arguments from silence: Scripture doesn’t teach it explicitly, so therefore it maybe didn’t happen.
But notice how weak this argument from silence is. When and where did the Virgin Mary die? Scripture doesn’t say. Did Mary die? Scripture doesn’t say. Fascinatingly, even though two different cities (Ephesus and Jerusalem) claimed to be the site where St. John took the Virgin Mary after the Crucifixion (John 19:27), nobody claims to have her body. To a modern Protestant, who gives no thought to sacred relics, that might not seem strange. But the earliest Christians were huge into relics (like Catholics today). The problem that the Church has always faced is too many relics, with impostors trying to pass off their local bones as some great Saint or other (a powerful draw for pilgrims). But here, there are too few relics. As far as arguments from silence go, that strikes me at least as powerful as the whole “not explicitly mentioned” argument.
Some Protestants will go further and claim that it’s wrong to believe anything not explicitly taught in Scripture. That standard is literally impossible to hold. The canon of Scripture (that is, which books are inspired) isn’t taught in Scripture, and yet Protestants believe that their 66 books are inspired. Mary dying isn’t explicitly in Scripture, and yet they believe it happened. So the “I don’t believe in anything not explicitly taught” position invariably turns out to just be “I’m right unless Scripture explicitly contradicts me.” Watch an intra-Protestant debate and you can see this bad hermeneutic play out: instruments in Christian worship aren’t explicitly mentioned, and therefore they’re… forbidden? permitted? You can use this standard to justify virtually anything.
All of that is to say that there aren’t compelling reasons to reject the Assumption. But why should we accept it?
2. Scripture Presents Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant
To see the image of Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, go back to Luke 1. Actually, go back much further, to 2 Samuel 6:2. There, Scripture says that King David “arose and went with all the people who were with him from Ba′ale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim.” This Ark is so holy that it can’t even be touched, as Uzzah finds out the hard way (2 Sam. 6:7). David then encamps the Ark there in the hill country of Judah, in “the house of Obededom the Gittite” for three months (2 Sam. 6:11). It’s there that there’s the great scene of “King David leaping and dancing before the Lord” (2 Sam. 6:16).
Now go back to Luke 1. After the Virgin Mary hears that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, Luke says that she “arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah” (Luke 1:39). Notice that even the “arose and went” verbage is taken from 2 Samuel 6 – the only time that construction is used in the entire New Testament. And notice that she goes to the same place: the hill country of Judah. She then goes to “the house of Zechariah” where she stays for… you guessed it, three months (Luke 1:40, 56). And it’s there that there’s the great scene in which, “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41).
And Elizabeth’s response to this is to treat Mary as holy (Luke 1:41-45):
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Believe it or not, Elizabeth’s “why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” is yet another parallel to 2 Samuel 6, where King David asks, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam. 6:9).
And of course, all of this makes sense. The Ark of the Covenant was sacred and untouchable because it housed the manna, the Ten Commandments, and the rod of Aaron. Mary housed the Second Person of the Trinity in her womb. Of course she’s holier than the first Ark. (If you’re not ready to admit this, at least you can hopefully see that Scripture presents her as the new Ark).
3. Scripture Promises that the Lord Would Assume His Ark into Heaven
Psalm 132:8 says, “Arise, O Lord, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might.” On the surface, this is a reference to the Temple, but it’s ultimately pointing towards Heaven. That, after all, is the ultimate rest of God (Hebrews 4:1, 8-11):
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. […] For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day. So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience.
So the Psalm ultimately prefigures Christ entering Heaven… and taking His Ark with Him.
4. Mary Reigning with Christ is Extremely Biblical.
Some Protestants are scandalized about Catholics referring to Mary as Queen of Heaven. So, for example, GotQuestions proclaims:
There is no queen of heaven. There has never been a queen of heaven. There is most certainly a King of Heaven, the Lord of hosts. He alone rules in heaven. He does not share His rule or His throne or His authority with anyone. The idea that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the queen of heaven has no scriptural basis whatsoever.
Quite simply, this debate over the Assumption of Mary points to two radically different conceptions of God. The vision of God put forward by GotQuestions is of a God who seems almost insecure, afraid that His Saints are going to detract from His own Glory. To a Catholic, this concern is incoherent, like da Vinci being worried that people wouldn’t respect him because they liked the Mona Lisa too much. Our vision of God is of a God who happily shares his Glory. And unlike GotQuestions, we have the Bible on our side…. quite explicitly.
St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:11-12, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him.” Revelation 2:26-29 is just as explicit:
He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
So either anti-Marian Protestants are right that God reigns alone, or the Bible is right, that God shares His reign with the Saints. And if Catholics and the Bible are right, then there’s nothing wrong with saying that Mary is Queen of Heaven.
5. There’s Good Direct Biblical Reason to Believe in the Assumption
If you want to see points 2-4 all tied together, directly connecting the Ark in Heaven and the Mother of God, look at Revelation 11:19-12:2. It says:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. 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.
So who is this woman enthroned in Heaven? Well, her Son is the “one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 12:5), which is a reference both to Christ (Psalm 2:9; Rev. 19:15) and to the Saints (Rev. 2:27). Here, the Son seems to be Christ, since Revelation 12:17 mentions “the rest of her offspring,” who are “those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.”
Now, the Book of Revelation is rich in symbolism, and I don’t want to discount that this entroned Woman might also be the Church in glory. She is our Mother, as well. Just as the one who has the “rod of iron” is a dual reference to Christ and the Saints, there’s no reason to think that the Mother can’t be Mary and the Church. But to deny that the Mother of Jesus in Revelation 12 might is the Virgin Mary is to reject the most obvious and explicit meaning of the Scripture.
So where does that leave us? There are no positive arguments against the Assumption of Mary (many of the arguments, like GotQuestion’s, being based on heretical and unbiblical misunderstandings of God), and the arguments from silence aren’t particularly strong (and there are equally strong arguments from silence in the opposite direction). Meanwhile, there are positive arguments for the Assumption, in that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, Scripture points to God bringing His Ark to Heaven, and Mary appears to be enthroned in Heaven in Revelation 12. On that note, happy feast day!