Mary's assumption

Question: Does the definition of the word “assumption” (to presume or take for granted) originally stem from Protestant objections to Catholic teachings on Mary’s assumption? In other words, did they use the word to mock our teaching, saying that we merely assume she was taken to heaven?

Marvel Kaderlik, Sun City, Arizona

Answer: No, the use of the word “assumption” to refer to Mary’s being taken up to heaven predates the Protestant period by hundreds of years.

The word assumption, meaning “to take up” comes from Latin roots: ad (to, toward) and sumere (to take or put on). Thus, the dogma of the Assumption refers to Mary being taken up to heaven, soul and body. The Lord takes her to himself. While it is true that there is a modern English sense — an assumption refers to something we presume or take for granted — that is not its original or only meaning.

Assumption is different than ascension, since to ascend is to go up by one’s own power. But Mary does not go up to heaven by her own power as Jesus did. She is taken there by the Lord. Tradition about Mary goes back to apostolic times and says that when her earthly time ended, her body, not just her soul, was taken to heaven. Whether she died first and her body was entombed or instead was taken up at the moment of death is not certain. There are two different traditions. But both traditions are clear: Her body was taken up, and there are no relics of her to be found in antiquity or now.

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While this event is not recorded in Scripture, St. John in the Book of Revelation describes her as the Ark of the New Covenant. The ancient Ark of the Covenant was a box, covered in gold, that carried the presence of God in Israel. Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant because she carried the presence of God in Israel bodily, first in her womb, later in her arms. When John looks up into heaven, he sees God’s temple in heaven and the ark is there. Subsequent verses speak of a great sign in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun carrying the Messiah in her womb and perpetually giving birth to him in our lives.

This is not a “proof text.” But the Scriptural text of the Book of Revelation shows that it is not contrary to Scripture.

Vaccinations

Question: Is it morally OK to get a shingles shot? I read that the initial research in developing this vaccine involved embryonic stem cells.

Rita Malone, Norwood, Massachusetts

Answer: Yes, given the circumstances you describe, it is OK to get the shot. While it is likely true that some research on the vaccine involved embryonic stem cell lines, your own involvement and connection to that is very remote. There is probably no product that is not tainted in some way with sinful human actions.

We must refuse any direct cooperation with evil. We can also strive to avoid remote cooperation if it is reasonable due to available alternatives. But in a world of sin, remote cooperation with sin, injustice and evil is nearly impossible to wholly avoid.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org.