Today is the feast day of the Assumption of Mary. This is the doctrine that, at the end of her life, Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven. The Catholic Church has not defined whether or not she actually died, but it is traditional to believe that she was assumed after her death. She did not ascend to Heaven by her own power, as Jesus did, but was assumed in another way.
I've often thought this should be one of the easier Catholic Marian doctrines. I've often heard "But it isn't in the Bible!" There are lots of things not recorded in the Bible that still happened. For example, tradition says that St. Thomas carried the Gospel to India, and there is evidence that it happened. The knowledge of what happened to Mary after her death is not necessary for salvation.
Also, there is biblical precedent for humans being assumed into heaven. Ever hear of Enoch and Elijah?
Gen 5:24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.
2 Kings 2:11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
We have written several times about the parallels between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant. If the Ark, which contained God, was hidden until the end of the time, then why should Mary's body, which also contained God, be left on Earth to decay?
2 Mac 2:5-7
- When Jeremiah arrived there, he found a room in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense; then he blocked up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the path, but they could not find it.
- When Jeremiah heard of this, he reproved them: "The place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy.
You can read a short history of the celebration of this feast.
After the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 336, the sacred sites began to be restored and memories of the life of Our Lord began to be celebrated by the people of Jerusalem. One of the memories about his mother centered around the "Tomb of Mary," close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived.
On the hill itself was the "Place of Dormition," the spot of Mary's "falling asleep," where she had died. The "Tomb of Mary" was where she was buried.
At this time, the "Memory of Mary" was being celebrated. Later it was to become our feast of the Assumption. . .
Soon the name was changed to the "Assumption of Mary," since there was more to the feast than her dying. It also proclaimed that she had been taken up, body and soul, into heaven.
That belief was ancient, dating back to the apostles themselves. What was clear from the beginning was that there were no relics of Mary to be venerated, and that an empty tomb stood on the edge of Jerusalem near the site of her death. That location also soon became a place of pilgrimage. (Today, the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition of Mary stands on the spot.)
At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when bishops from throughout the Mediterranean world gathered in Constantinople, Emperor Marcian asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capitol. The patriarch explained to the emperor that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, that "Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later . . . was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven."
This website contains the text of early Christian documents relating to the death and assumption of Mary.
Scripture Catholic has quotations from the early Church regarding this doctrine.
“If the Holy Virgin had died and was buried, her falling asleep would have been surrounded with honour, death would have found her pure, and her crown would have been a virginal one...Had she been martyred according to what is written: 'Thine own soul a sword shall pierce', then she would shine gloriously among the martyrs, and her holy body would have been declared blessed; for by her, did light come to the world."
Epiphanius, Panarion, 78:23 (A.D. 377).
"[T]he Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, [Mary] rejoices with the Lord's chosen ones..." Gregory of Tours, Eight Books of Miracles, 1:4 (inter A.D. 575-593).
"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." Modestus of Jerusalem, Encomium in dormitionnem Sanctissimae Dominae nostrae Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae (PG 86-II,3306),(ante A.D. 634).
"It was fitting ...that the most holy-body of Mary, God-bearing body, receptacle of God, divinised, incorruptible, illuminated by divine grace and full glory ...should be entrusted to the earth for a little while and raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul pleasing to God." Theoteknos of Livias, Homily on the Assumption (ante A.D. 650).
You can view photos of Mary's tomb and the church built over it at this website.
It looks as if previous comments have been lost due to the change in comments provider, but we had quite a discussion on the Assumption last year. Some of that discussion is available in this post.