The Catholic Faith has not defined whether the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed into heaven alive. Pope Pius XII, when he was having the question researched for a dogmatic proclamation was approached by a little boy who told him Our Lady had appeared to him and that the pope should not add that she had died when she was assumed. The pope believed the child's message and so did not broach the subject in his dogmatic declaration on the Assumption in his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus of November 1st, 1950.
Some theologians believe Our Lady did not die as she was immaculately preserved from sin and so would not be liable to the penalties of sin, such as death. Other theologians believe that she wished to further unite herself with her Son's redemption by freely choosing to suffer death as He had.
Tradition seems to favor that Our Lady did not die, so much so that in the Eastern Rites and among the Orthodox, Our Lady's Assumption is referred to as the "Dormition" or "her falling asleep". What the Catholic Church dogmatically teaches is that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven by her son Jesus Christ.
The Assumption is celebrated by the Universal Church on August 15. Our Lady in her Assumption is the patron saint of the United States.
It should be stated the Mary was assumed (needed help) while Jesus ascended (without assistance).
In describing the fittingness of the Assumption, many saints and theologians have recalled that being assumed, or caught up into heaven is not without precedent. For example "Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him." (Gn 5:24 NAB), and St. Paul recalls that "By faith Enoch was taken up that he should not see death, and 'he was found no more because God had taken him.' Before he was taken up, he was attested to have pleased God." (Heb 11:5 NAB)
Similarly, the archangel Gabriel indicated that Mary had also pleased God: Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30 NAB). Mary herself is gladdened at the news and joyfully attests to having pleased God in her Canticle: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name." (Lk 1:46-49 NAB).
Indeed, her walk with God would become intimately physical and spiritual by giving birth to God the Incarnate Word, walking with Him through His life, death, and resurrection. In this sense, Mary's walk with God takes on a superlative character that surpasses that of Enoch's walk with God.
Similarly, saints and theologians have recalled "When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwhind...on their way from Gilgal", and that "as they walked on conversing, a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind." (cf. 2 Kings 2:1,11).
Here it is worth noting that writers in the Old as well as the New Testaments frequently used flames or fire to indicate the presence of the Divine (cf. Ex 3:2-3, Ex 13:21-22, Is 6:1-7, Ez 1:4). Thus, Elijah's being taken up to heaven by flaming horses and a flaming chariot indicates a fitting consummation of the life of a holy person consumed, engulfed and overshadowed by sacred flames of the Holy Spirit. In this comparison, there is again a superlative character in which Mary was consumed, engulfed or overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, allowing her to receive the very Incarnate Word into her being - body and soul, as no other person ever has. cf. Lk 1:35; Acts 1:13-14; Acts 2:3-4. Considering the Incarnation of Christ alone, the superlative character of her receptivity of the flame of the Holy Spirit surpasses that of even Elijah.
Also, just as Elijah was engulfed in flames and taken to heaven, theologians and scholars have indicated a similar image of Mary engulfed in the Divine flame represented by the sun: A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Rev 12:1.
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. The New American Bible, (Iowa Falls: IA, World Bible Publisher, Inc. 1991).
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