5th Distinction : Her Passing from this World
Our Lady was blessed with the most beautiful passing from this world.
The Church has not dogmatically defined that Our Lady underwent a death like ours. In the solemn definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, Pope Pius XII stated that,
"Mary...after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven." (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950)
The sobriety of the Church, when it comes to some matters on which the Scriptures are silent and on which Church Tradition is not wholly unanimous, especially in a number of details about the end of her life, allows her to say simply that Our Lady completed her life on earth.
But just because the Church has not solemnly defined a dogma does not mean that the Church does not hold something as true.
The greater bulk of Tradition holds that Mary's soul separated from her body. Doctors of the Church, the ancient Fathers and many saints teach that Our Blessed Mother's soul left her body. She died. But what a different, most blessed and sweet death it was!
Those, in the minority, who say that she did not die at all make some points that are important to know. For, if they do not clearly show that Mary did not die, these points at least help explain why her death was so different from ours.
Death, as the Bible says, is the wages of sin. Men die because of Original Sin. But Mary was conceived without Original Sin. Therefore, there is no penalty for her to suffer. Just as labor pains are another penalty due to sin (Genesis 3:16), and Mary did not suffer those when she gave birth to Christ (see Isaiah 66:7-8 for a foreshadowing of that), this smaller group of theologians assert that Mary similarly did not die.
But Our Lord, too, was completely sinless, and yet He died. He didn't have to die; He voluntarily died, for our salvation.
Mary did not need to die, as if obliged to pay a debt; she voluntarily died, because she wanted to share in everything her Son underwent. The Mother is not superior to the Son.
And she also wanted to be a Mother to us, her children. She wanted to share in what we will all undergo, and to show us that, if we are one with her and Christ, we do not need to fear death when we die in the state of grace.
This was also the will of God, that she die. But there would also be great differences between her death and ours, just as Christ died differently from us in some respect, and just like us in other respects.
How Our Lady Passed From this Life
The overwhelming teaching of tradition says that Our Lady moved back to Jerusalem from Ephesus, with the Apostle John. She would visit the places where her Son had suffered His passion and death, and where He was buried, and she would weep in sorrow. She prayed that God would let her know in advance of her death, and that she be surrounded by the Apostles when her time had come.
Gabriel appeared some time later and told her the time had come. She, in turn, told her guardian, the Apostle John, who sent out word to the other Apostles, scattered throughout the world. The tradition states that God brought them all, except Saint Thomas, to Jerusalem in a cloud.
With the Apostles and many believers at her side, she told them she would not leave them orphans but would always be with them and pray for them, even more boldly now before the Throne of God in heaven.
On August 15, surrounded by the Apostles, with much prayer said among them all and many words of encouragement, Christ appeared with great splendor, accompanied by many angels. The love between Christ and His Mother was intense; they spoke; she laid back and Christ took her soul into His own hands. She died without pain, violence or fear. She died in peace and in joy, knowing she was leaving this vale of tears to join her Son forever in heaven.
The painting above shows Jesus receiving the soul of Mary in the form of a child. Mary, as it were, is born again, into eternal life!
The Church leaves alone the question whether Our Lady died of natural causes. What is certain is that she died for love, for love of her Son whom she wanted to join in death and in resurrection. Saint Francis de Sales says that she died because her soul was ravished with an intense love for her Son. In a sense, she could no longer remain on earth. Her love for Jesus beckoned her to heaven.
A sweet perfume came from her lifeless body, which suffered no decay or corruption from the time of death. The next morning, they placed her body in a new tomb in Gethsemane, and closed it shut.
For someone in love with Christ, death is not something to be feared morbidly. The holy person is humble and does not presume. The holy person is even more aware of his or her defects and asks for prayers and the sacraments. He or she calls on the mercy of the Lord, but has confidence in that mercy! The holy person dies with an intense desire to see God, not to evade Him, as if that were possible.
Nothing can be more sad than the death of those who fear seeing God and fear death. Their guilty consciences sting them. They regret so many decisions in life. Some regret having been born at all. Yet, many of them still cannot find it in themselves to ask God for mercy. Many people die a sad, bitter death.
How blessed to die like Mary! "Oh blessed in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His just ones!" (Psalm 116) Let us follow her in life and in death.