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Seamus Gallagher wrote:

Hi guys,

  • Can you please help me with the question on whether Our Blessed Mother died or was taken up alive into Heaven?

I can find no consensus on this issue one way or the other. If you can provide any insight on this matter, I would be very grateful as I have a great devotion to Her.

If she died, then surely she had sin. This contradicts her Immaculate Conception.


  { Did our Blessed Mother die or was she taken up into Heaven and if she died, did she take on sin? }

Eric replied:

Hi Seamus —

There is no agreement. Pope Pius XII quite deliberately carefully worded the document defining the Assumption to be neutral on the question of whether she died or not. He said,

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.

To say that if she died, it means she took on sin would be to say that Jesus took on sin (meaning was sinful) because he died. But lacking the stain of original sin, or actual sin, does not make one necessarily immortal, as Jesus showed. In point of fact, He did not have to die, but He voluntarily chose to die to redeem the world.

If Mary died, we can say, she too chose to die, in imitation of her Son and in participation of His Redemption (a redemption we all participate in).

Eric Ewanco

Terry Quinn, BA (Divinity) Hons, MA Theology (Marian Studies) replied:

Dear Seamus —

I started a brief reply and realized I have been rambling on because this subject is of great interest to those interested in the role of Blessed Virgin Mary.

You have identified a dilemma. Genesis shows death to be one of the punishments for sin,
yet Mary was defined to have been:

  • conceived without sin, and
  • assumed bodily uncorrupted into Heaven.

In the West, we celebrate these under two Feasts, that of the Immaculate Conception December 8th and the Assumption August 15th (although in ancient times some regions of the Church celebrated the Feast of the Assumption on January 18th.)

The Eastern Church has a wonderful Feast day called the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is not death in the way we would define it in the West, rather it is the falling asleep of Mary.

An ancient Coptic tradition states that when Mary was old and nearing this falling asleep,
Jesus appeared to 72 of the disciples. He was on the chariot of the cherubim accompanied by
1000 Angels, and he told them He was to take his Mother to himself. The disciples wept and asked that Mary should never die, but the Lord said her time was accomplished.

Another tradition has the remaining Apostles gathered around Mary in Jerusalem for her dormition.

But perhaps the most widely believed tradition is that St. John, with whom Our Lady was believed to be living in Ephesus, was asked by Mary to take her to Bethlehem, and it was in Bethlehem that she fell asleep.

Only one ancient source suggests she died in Ephesus.

The reason for quoting these ancient traditions (and they are only traditions — venerable they may be — they are not defined doctrine or dogma) is that they all give credence to the concept that Mary did die. Not the painful death of so many of mankind, not the torments of spirit, but nevertheless the cessation of life within the body, which is the moment we describe when the soul leaves the body.

If you are seriously interested, read the writings on this subject by:

  • Evodius (first Bishop of Antioch)
  • Theodosius (Archbishop of Alexandria)
  • the Greek narratives of St John the Divine,
  • the Latin narrative of Pseudo-Melito (Bishop of Sardis), and
  • Tischendorf's texts of the narrative by Joseph of Arimathæa

In addition to reading these, there are various Syriac texts you may wish to read which describe Mary leaving Jerusalem and going to Bethlehem to prepare for her death.

She prayed that John might be sent to her, and John came from Ephesus. The other Apostles were brought to her. A great multitude of Angels appeared and Mary and John were told by the Holy Spirit to return to Jerusalem where Mary peacefully dies. Hence the confusion as to whether Mary died in Bethlehem or Jerusalem. Certainly not Ephesus, according to these ancient manuscripts.

You may come across a book Mary's House, by Donald Carroll, which contains the hypothesis that after the death of Jesus, Mary lived and died in Ephesus. He bases his theory upon the visions of Sister Emmerich.

This subject could be the subject, not of essays, but of entire books. I am happy to continue this dialogue with you if you are further interested.

Terry Quinn

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