Some of my really good friends are Catholic and believe that Mary the mother of Jesus went to heaven spirit and flesh and that she did not have sin. I am Baptist and we respect Mary but I don’t believe this and want to know how and why they believe this.
– LG from Allen, Texas
The doctrine of the Assumption (Part 1)
Yes, Catholic doctrine states as infallible dogma both items you mention but I want to handle them separately because we can draw a little bit different conclusion about each of them. First we will start with the idea that “Mary went to heaven spirit and flesh.” That is known within the Catholic Church as the Assumption.
Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption as infallible dogma on November 1, 1950. Though it was unofficially believed for centuries, by incorporating it into official doctrine Catholics are required to believe it to remain Catholic—an essential of their faith. The core of the doctrine is that Mary’s body was assumed into heaven either at death or instead of death. Most believe she did not die but you are allowed to believe either way on that point.
Is this possible? Yes, we have two scriptural examples of men who did not experience death, who were taken directly by God into heaven. The first was Enoch. Genesis 5:24 tells us that “Enoch walked with God; he was not, for God took him.” Hebrews 11:5 clarifies further: “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death.”
The second man was Elijah. “As they (Elijah and Elisha) were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.” (2 Kings 2:11)
So is it possible that God took Mary into heaven the same way? It is possible but we have absolutely no way of knowing for sure. There is no scriptural evidence or even any hints to support it. Tradition holds that Mary lived with the Apostle John in Ephesus at the end of her life. She would no doubt have been buried there. In my opinion, the fact that people have believed it on and off over the centuries does not justify making it a doctrine, infallible or otherwise.
However, I have much bigger problems with the second item.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (Part 2)
The idea that Mary was sinless (and conceived by her parents without original sin) is called the Immaculate Conception. Here we have clear scriptural evidence that the doctrine is flat out wrong. Pope Pius IX defined it as inerrant in 1854, but just like the other one, it was unofficially believed for centuries.
Mary actually testifies to her own sin condition in her prophecy known as the Magnificat given to us in Luke 1:46-47. “And Mary said: My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” If she had no sin she would have no need of a savior. Now look at Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I could point to many other scriptures also confirming that ALL human beings have sinned and were born into the original sin of Adam and Eve.
Your other question about “why” they believe this is much harder to answer—in fact I can’t answer it. If you go to a Catholic encyclopedia or catechism you will find a strong defense for both doctrines but in my view they are convoluted and unduly esoteric. There is admission that no strict scriptural evidence exists however that would not be necessary to a church which holds that it can state matters of faith and morals as infallible.
My personal opinion is that Mary has always had a very strong lobby to promote her within the Catholic Church. For instance, there has been a movement for many years (I remember it back in grade school) to define a doctrine that names Mary as Co-Redemptrix of the world. If so, it would mean both Jesus AND Mary save us from our sins—not Jesus alone. I hope that never comes to pass.
The high emphasis on Mary as a target for devotion is one of the biggest sticking points between Catholics and Protestants. I personally feel Mary would be embarrassed about all the attention directed to her rather than her son. It is a distraction and a sideshow that has nothing to do with bringing the kingdom of God upon the earth.
I note when Jesus returns in Revelation 19:16, “And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” I don’t think we can go wrong by being devoted to him alone!