5th Distinction : Her Assumption into Heaven
The Church has solemnly defined that Mary is now in heaven, body and soul.
It would have been very strange had Mary's body remained in her earthly tomb, and no one claim to have it! The early Christians valued the physical location of religious events, and they valued whatever relics could be had of the saints, including their bodies.
Different towns and cities competed with each other, claiming to have this or that relic.
But Christianity knows of no tomb of Mary with her body still in it. Not even a tomb where her body was once for many years, until the body was stolen or destroyed in war. None at all.
It is the universal belief of the ancient Church that the body of Mary is no longer on earth, and has not been on earth for a very long time.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII put the matter to rest, solemnly defining the Dogma of the Assumption. At the end of her earthly life, not many years after, Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul.
How it Happened
Again, the Church herself does not formally define how the Assumption happened; only that it did. But, there is our honorable tradition, which goes along these lines :
As we mentioned in the last post, Saint Thomas was the only Apostle not swept in a cloud and transported immediately to the bedside of Mary. We do not know for sure why God left him out, but we can speculate that God did this so that what followed could have happened.
On the third day after Mary's soul left her body, and thus in imitation of Christ's three days in the tomb, Saint Thomas, who was in India, was swept up into the air.
In the middle of the air he saw the Blessed Virgin also in the air. He asked her where she was going. She didn't answer. She simply gave the Apostle her cincture and continued on her way upwards.
Reaching Jerusalem, Saint Thomas asked the Apostles to allow him to see the body of Mary in the tomb, since he was much grieved to have been missing when she passed from this life. The other Apostles obliged, and when they opened the tomb, they saw no body! All that remained were the burial cloths, and a wonderful fragrance!
Other traditions state that the Apostles heard angelic singing during the three days Mary's body was in the tomb, and that flowers sprung up in the tomb where her body had been laid.
The painting above shows the Apostles standing around the empty tomb of Mary, with flowers instead of a body in the tomb.
The Salvation of the Creature is Complete
The Assumption of Mary show us that Christ has truly accomplished His work; men and women can be saved! He Himself ascended into heaven with His human body. But Christ is not a human person. He is a divine person, with two natures. His divine nature He has had for all eternity. His human nature He took on at the Incarnation.
When Christ assumed a human nature; when He did all He did and suffered all He went through in His human nature; when His human will obeyed God's will unto death; when He rose from the dead - in all these things Christ saved human nature. The curse of sin which wounded human nature was cured.
But does the cure work? Where is the purely human person, a creature, who has been totally cured?
She is in heaven, body and soul.
Christ's salvation does its job! Christ can save us, because He has already done so in Mary.
Enoch and Elijah
There are some who wonder about these two Old Testament figures, who, in different ways, are said to have somehow escaped natural death and to have left the earth. In Elijah's case, Scripture says, "into heaven."
But the Church has not solemnly defined that they went body and soul into heaven, meaning the abode of God. It is possible that they were placed in some natural, celestial place above the earth (heaven in the sense of the realm above the earth) until the opening of heaven when Christ died. The Church allows us to believe, but does not oblige us to believe, that perhaps Enoch and Elijah went to the heavenly abode of God by special privilege.
The Church also has not solemnly defined if the bodies of those who rose from the dead on Easter morning (see Matthew 27:52-53) went to heaven. Matthew says these resurrected people went into the city and appeared to many people. Did they eventually rise into heaven? Did they die and were buried again? What happened after that is unknown.
It is Mary alone, among the creatures of God, whom we have been obliged by Holy Mother Church to believe has been taken up to heaven, body and soul. Her salvation is complete in all respects, and our salvation has the fullness of hope knowing that she is there!