Whenever we prepare an issue on a new topic, our writers find facts in their digging that are new to me and that add to my sense of the richness of Christian history.

Our issue on Mary, the mother of Jesus—mailing at the end of this month—has certainly been no exception. Indeed, since Protestants have typically been content to leave the study of this honored biblical figure to the Catholics and Orthodox, I was more than usually enlightened this time around.

One area that was new to me is the little matter of Mary's supposed bodily assumption into heaven—on the analogy of certain particularly saintly Old Testament characters. I asked freelancer Sarah E. Dahl the question "What's up with that?"

This was her reply—originally slated as a sidebar for our issue, but through the vicissitudes of the editorial process, taken out and reserved for just this occasion: the day of the "Feast of the Assumption," August 15.

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Standing before a joyful crowd packing St. Peter's square in November 1950, Pope Pius XII declared "that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory." By this proclamation the pope defined belief in Mary's assumption into heaven as a dogma, or divinely revealed teaching, of the Catholic Church. However, belief that Mary "fell asleep" at the end of her life and was miraculously transported to heaven dates back to the early medieval church and has been a source of devotion for centuries in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

Although Scripture reveals nothing about the manner of Mary's death, traditions surrounding her life after Christ's resurrection soon arose in the church. References to her ...

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