How to Answer Protestants Forum: Did mary die?
Did mary die? QUESTION from RAMi Madanat on December 3, 2002 In the Catechism it states . Because of man, creation is now subject to its bondage to decay. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will return to the ground, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history. and The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of Original sin. Does this mean that Mary did not experience Physical Death before her Assumption into heaven? The Catechism does not definitely state is she experienced death:
Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.
In a book called, CITY Of GOD (POPULAR ABRIDGEMENT OF THE DIVINE HISTORY AND LIFE OF THE VIRGIN MOTHER OF GOD MANIFESTED TO MARY OF AGREDA FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF MEN TRANSLATED from the Original Spanish BY FISCAR MARISON) (which can be found posted online http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/7194/ ) Gabriel gives her notice of her death, Gabriel saluted Her with the Ave Maria, and added thereto: Our Empress and Lady, the Omnipotent and the Holy of the holy sends us from his heavenly court to announce to Thee in his name the most happy end of thy pilgrimage and banishment upon earth in mortal life. Soon, O Lady, is that day and hour approaching which, according to thy longing desires, Thou shalt pass through natural death to the possession of the eternal and immortal life, which awaits Thee in the glory and at the right hand of thy divine Son, our God. Exactly three years from today Thou shalt be taken up and received into the everlasting joy of the Lord, where all its inhabitants await Thee, longing for thy presence. and then she died, She pronounced those words of her Son on the Cross: Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. Then She closed her virginal eyes and expired. The sickness which took away her life was love, without any other weakness or accidental intervention of whatever kind. She died at the moment when the divine power suspended the assistance, which until then had counteracted the sensible ardors of her burning love of God. As soon as this miraculous assistance was withdrawn, the fire of her love consumed the life-humors of her heart and thus caused the cessation of her earthly existence.
I know that this book is not a source of doctrine in our faith, nor is it deemed completely accurate. However, according to the understanding of Mary of Agreda (regarding the assumption), our beloved mother died a 'natural death'. This was probably also the opinion of many catholic theologians at the time. The great Pope Benedict XIII, when he was archbishop of Benevent, used these revelations as material for a series of sermons on the Blessed Virgin. This book recieved an approbation from the Universal Church: We take pleasure in giving our episcopal approbation to the annotated translation of the Spanish original Ciudad de Dios of Mary of Jesus and recommend this book, which will surely edify all readers and be the occasion of great spiritual blessings. Ratisbon, September 29, 1885 +Ignatius, Bishop of Ratisbon. Notable is the high recommendation of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Apost. Legate, Primate of Germany, etc. According to the decrees of Pope Innocent XI and Clement XI the book known as 'Ciudad de Dios' written by the Venerable Servant of God, Maria de Jesus, may be read by all the faithful. A number of episcopal approbations, the recommendations of four renowned universities, namely, of Toulouse, Salamanca, Alcala and Louvain, and of prominent members of different orders, coincide in extolling the above-named work. The learned and pious Cardinal D'Aguirre says that he considers all the studies of fifty years of his previous life as of small consequence in comparison with the doctrines he found in this book, which in all things are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Fathers and Councils of the Church. The Venerable Superior-General of St. Sulpice, Abbe Emery, adds: Only since I read the revelations of Mary of Agreda do I properly know Jesus and His Holy Mother. We therefore do not hesitate - in granting our episcopal approbation to - Ciudads de Dios - and wish to recommend it to the faithful and especially to our clergy.
Also, the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church states that she did die. Keeping this in mind, and the fact the catechism does not state definitively if her death took place, I am left with a dilemma. If the Blessed Virgin Mary did die, this would be contrary to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, for she was preserved from all stain of Original sin, which states:  Because of man, creation is now subject to its bondage to decay. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will return to the ground, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history. (THE PROFESSION OF FAITH, SECTION TWO III. ORIGINAL SIN Paragraph 400) .
But the Immaculate Conception was declared infallible doctrine by the Catholic Church. I do not know how to approach this issue.
ANSWER by Mr. Troy Martz on January 13, 2003 Dear Mr. Madanat:
Thank you for your question. A few of the clues to the answer lie in the question itself. For example you say that the Universal Church has given approbation, but the approbations given are only from local episcopal ordinaries (Bishops) and universities. These, though lending credibility to the work, are not Infallible Proclamations. Only an Ecumenical Council of the Church, or the Pope (then only speaking ex cathera)teach infallibly.
Beyond that, these types of endorsements only declare that something is not doctrinally in error. The question then becomes, is the form of the end of the Blessed Virgin's earthly life a matter of doctrinal import? In other words, why do we care if Mary died or was Assumed into Heaven alive?
The Church officially, as shown in the Catechism, is silent about this question. That is because the end result is not any different if Mary died and then was assumed body and soul or if she never physically died.
But the wages of sin is death you say -- doesn't that mean that everyone who dies has sinned? Not exactly.
There are two important issues to understand here: What is the death that is primarily the wages of sin? Also, are the consequences of sin entering into the life of Man individual or corporate consequences?
Look at the story of Adam and Eve. They are commanded not to eat of the forbidden tree. God tells Adam in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. Yet, when Adam and Eve partake of the tree, they don't drop dead. An insight into this seeming contradiction in the Douay-Rheims (DR) translation (fast becoming my personal favorite -- I was raised on the King's English in the KJV). In the DR, Genesis 1:17 reads:
But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death. [Emphasis mine]
Clearly, God means something other than physical death. The DR implies a death that is more than physical death. Indeed, it is entirely consistant with Scripture -- and Sacred Tradition -- to see the wages of sin as spiritual death. That is not to make it any less real, actually spiritual death is much more real than mere physical death. As Jesus says, Fear not him who can destroy the body, but fear him who can destroy the soul.
By this understanding, mere physical death cannot negate the Immaculate Conception since the Doctrine of Original Sin is much more concerned with the life of the immortal soul than the body.
We should also look at the corporate nature of sin and punishment. Modern Christianity, influenced by Protestantism's extreme overemphasis on the individual nature of salvation (an important part of salvation, but not the whole of it), has very little understanding of the corporate nature of mankind's struggle with sin, suffering, and death. Throughout the Scriptures we see innocents suffering and dying because of the sins of others (for example the Babylonian Captivity).
This error of seeing individual sin as the cause of individual suffering (and physical death) is not new. People questioned whether the man born blind was caused by his parents' sin. Jesus makes it clear that it was not individual sin. He did not suffer because of his (nor his parents') sin -- he suffered for the glory of God.
Though this mystery of suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of God is more than I can discuss here, suffice it to say that it is entirely possible for the Blessed Virgin Mary to follow the lead of her Savior in suffering and dying for the glory of God. [That is not to in anyway indicate that Mary is our savior like Jesus. I only mean that she, like St. Paul in Colossians 1:24, fills up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ.]
As to whether or not she physically died before her Assumption, if the Church doesn't give a definitive answer, then who am I to try.
Pax Christi, Troy
Back to Index Page