“Ask a Priest: How Can I Defend Belief in the Assumption?”

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Q: I engaged in a hostile argument with my friend Jeff over whether or not Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, since there is no reference to it in the Bible. He is referring to my belief as “past blind faith” and completely illogical. Jeff just told me I don’t have my act together when it comes to what I blindly believe in the Catholic Church. He just called me a pathetic fool. He said he wasn’t taught the Assumption in Catholic school, so it’s not true. He just said the Roman Catholic Church is a fundamentalist Christian church. I’m trying to counter his argument, but I’m falling short. Would you help me? Thank you. – A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your basic question revolves around the source of Catholic teaching.

The Church relies both on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition for its teaching.

Sacred Tradition is the oral transmission of truths taught by Christ and the apostles. Without Tradition we wouldn’t even have the New Testament. Before things were written down, they were passed down orally. So Scripture comes out of Tradition. And Tradition helps us to interpret Scripture correctly.

Think of St. Peter on Pentecost morning, when 3,000 people were baptized. What did St. Peter rely on when preaching to the crowds? Did he quote from the New Testament? The New Testament wouldn’t even be compiled for a few centuries. Rather, St. Peter drew on Tradition — what he received by word of mouth from Christ and by what he witnessed.

As for the Assumption: this was a belief widely held in the early Church, long before it was declared a dogma in 1950.

One bit of evidence for Mary’s assumption was that there was never any record of her tomb. If she had died and had been buried, there certainly would have been pilgrimages to her tomb, such as with other great saints.

(For more reading on the Assumption, see this Catholic Answers posting and this one.)

As to your friend’s insistence on Scripture alone: The idea that only things explicitly mentioned in the Bible are to be believed is contradicted by Scripture itself.

Look at the end of the Gospel according to John: “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written” (21:25).

We shouldn’t think that those “many other things that Jesus did” were lost for eternity. No! The apostles would have cherished everything Jesus did, and passed on word of those things, either in written form or orally.

And then there is the advice from St. Paul: “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Paul is saying explicitly that he passed on teaching both by the written word and by oral statements.

As for the Catholic Church being fundamentalist: that is the last thing anyone usually accuses the Church of being. Fundamentalists tend not to accept Tradition but only the Bible.

Again, we accept both Tradition and Scripture. After all, the written word can’t quite capture all the teachings of Jesus. Our Lord is too deep and mysterious for that.

But getting back to your friend: You might want to pray for him. He seems to be wrestling with something beyond just his doubts about the Assumption.

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