Did the Virgin Mary die?
There are many Catholics that deny that the Immaculate Mary died. They claim that when Pope Pius XII dogmatically declared the Assumption of Mary, he left the question open. They cite the following from Munificentissimus Deus:
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.
Here, it is claimed, that the Holy Father left the question open by declaring only “having completed the course of her earthly life,” and not “having died.” Did Mary die? They say the text is ambiguous.
However, what did Pope Pius XII intend when he wrote, “having completed the course of her earthly life”? As in the study of Sacred Scripture, the answer lies in context.
Pope Pius XII – Did Mary Die?
If you read Munificentissimus Deus, it becomes manifest that the Holy Father taught that our Immaculate Lady died an earthly death before being assumed bodily into Heaven. This belief is stated repeatedly in the text of Munificentissimus Deus. Here are some examples from Munificentissimus Deus:
Citing Pope Adrian I, His Holiness Pope Pius XII records:
Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten your Son our Lord incarnate from herself.”
Citing the Byzantine liturgy:
As he kept you a virgin in childbirth, thus he has kept your body incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by his divine act of transferring it from the tomb.”
Citing Saint Modestus, the Holy Father writes:
As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him.”
The citations employed by Pope Pius XII reveal that he believed and intended to show that the Immaculate Virgin Mary did in fact undergo death prior to her glorious Assumption.
What is death?
Death is the separation of the body from the soul. When the soul leaves the body, you are dead. Traditional iconography shows the soul of Mary separate from her body as in the Western version above and in the Byzantine version below:
The common feature of the Dormition icon is Christ holding the tiny soul of Mary depicted as a baby wrapped in white clothes. It’s a “reverse Madonna.” The Mother of God’s body lies lifeless on a bier. The orthodox image shows that Mary did die. The Holy Apostles surround her demonstrating that the Dormition and Assumption had apostolic witness and are part of the deposit of Faith.
But Mary didn’t sin!
It should be stated that Mary did not die because of sin, but rather in her desire to be conformed to Christ in all things – to be the speculum justitiae, mirror of justice. Her death gave her dominion over Purgatory as prophesied in Ecclesiasticus 24 and gave her more meritorious prayers for those in the hour of death.
If you would like a detailed defense of the death of the Immaculate Virgin, see the Glories of Mary by Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, a doctor of the Church.
The Eastern Churches celebrate a mini-Lent before the Assumption from August 1-14. In addition to fasting, the Eastern Christians chant the Paraklesis Canon to the Mother of God from August 1-13. There is a tradition is that she died at 3pm on August 13 and rose again and was assumed into Heaven on August 15. Her death on August 13 is still commemorated in Jerusalem to this day. Hence Aug 13-15 is a Marian Triduum or “three-day” death and resurrection cycle. In fact, the Jerusalem rite for Matins on August 14 are those of Holy Saturday. In Jerusalem, the liturgy of her death begins on the evening of August 12.
Question: Do you agree that the iconography tradition and the context of Pius XII’s teaching upholds that Mary died? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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