Did our Blessed Mother die before she was assumed into Heaven or was she still alive? If she did die, why would God have allowed it since she was the Immaculate Conception?
- Nancy, Springfield
Whether the Blessed Virgin Mary died or simply fell asleep prior to being assumed into Heaven is an open question. In the Latin Catholic Church, tradition has said Mary did die; in the Eastern Catholic Churches, tradition has said she fell asleep and did not die. Either way, we have no solid historical evidence to prove a position.
When Pope St. Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus in 1950, he avoided the question altogether. Instead of answering the question directly, he chose a sort of middle position, saying, “… 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” (no. 44).
The conclusion of her earthly life may have ended with her death or with her falling asleep; we simply do not know. What is certain, though, is that her earthly life came to an end. Either way, God did “… not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb … ,” which is to say he did not allow her body to decay as our bodies will one day do (Preface of the Mass for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
If she did die and was then raised before being assumed into Heaven, God may well have allowed her death because the Blessed Virgin Mary is the exemplar of what each of us is to be. Each of us must die on account of the original sin before we are raised on the last day. If Mary died, it may have been as a sign to us of a holy and peaceful death and as a reminder of the promise of the resurrection.
Father Daren Zehnle is pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.