The doctrine is simply explained. Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. She deserved this honor because she was free from sin and from its consequences. Mary is seen as the beginning of those first fruits promised in Christ. We see in Mary that the resurrection and new life of Jesus is not a onetime event but is the real hope held out to those who believe and follow the Gospel. We too will be restored to life. We will also be reconstituted body and soul— glorified, changed— and yet still the same persons, finding our identities fulfilled in Christ. There are various traditions about the Assumption, but the truth they teach is the same. The Eastern churches speak of this mystery as the “falling asleep” or the DORMITION of the “Mother of God” or the BLESSED THEOTOKOS (God-bearer). This reference to “sleep” was due to a hesitance in the tradition to speak about Mary’s death. The end of her life was so singular, calling it death seemed inadequate. The West often portrays Mary in art as being raised into heaven by the efforts of small cherubs at her feet— a sign that her elevation is not by her own power but by God’s. (Note that with images of the Ascension of Jesus there are no such little helpers; he rises by his own power.) There is also the tradition that Mary clearly did die, just as her Son had died. However, the grave did not consume her. She remained uncorrupted. Legend has it that when the apostolic community came to care for the body, Mary’s tomb was empty and filled with blooming flowers. Like her Son, she had entered into eternal life. She represents our hope and is an image for the Church as the New Jerusalem.
Pope Pius XII defined this dogma in 1950:
“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”