Although defined as an article of faith by Pope Pius XII as recently as 1950, the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven had been accepted as true from the earliest years of Christianity's existence.
There was a solid and deep-rooted conviction among the first Christians that something extraordinary had happened to Our Lady at the moment of her departure from this life. This found expression in writings, sermons, devotional practices, and prayers to Mary "assumed into heaven", with churches, religious orders, cities and nations dedicated or consecrated to her under the title of Assumption.
While the human remains and final resting places of key figures like St Peter or St Paul would become shrines and centres of pilgrimage, in the case of the Blessed Mother of Jesus - the most honoured figure of all besides Our Lord Himself - there is no known final resting place, no relics to venerate.
It is true that belief in the Assumption - not specifically mentioned in the Scriptures - gains theological support from other truths of faith such as Mary's Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity and her perfect and intimate association with Christ.
Since Mary in the Bible is called the mother of Jesus, her cousin Elizabeth describing her as "the mother of my Saviour", and since her Son was God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, it followed she was the Mother of God. It would therefore have been unfitting for the earthly remains of such an exalted figure to see corruption.
But for many Catholics, the most telling verification of the Assumption can be found, not so much in learned theological treatises or definitive doctrinal statements, however necessary these are, but per medium of Mary's many apparitions which the Church has declared worthy of belief - Guadaloupe, Lourdes, Fatima, and others.
These appearances of Our Lady in a glorified body themselves have lent strong - if indirect - support to the reality of the Assumption.
- Michael Gilchrist: Editor (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)