As Catholics, we believe that Mary experienced something that few others have: She and her earthly body were assumed into heaven!
We call this dogma of our faith the Assumption. The reason why it’s a big deal is that most of the deceased won’t get their bodies back until after the Last Judgment.
Most Protestants reject this belief in Mary’s Assumption. They believe that her soul left her body when she went to heaven — the same way most of us leave this life. They challenge Catholics to provide evidence for the Assumption from Scripture or history.
One argument Catholics sometimes bring up is that no one has claimed to possess any relics of Mary’s body.
But is this really a good argument? Yes and here’s why.
Relics were a big deal even in the early Church.
Protestants often accuse Catholics of idolatry because of our reverence for relics. And they claim that we’re out of sync with the early Church, which knew nothing of collecting them.
Yet, not only do we not worship relics, we also can verify that the early Church took an interest in relics. The practice of enshrining relics possibly goes back to the second century and maybe even further!
The early Church was quick to preserve relics of important saints, especially the Apostles and martyrs. Given Mary’s prominent status as the mother of the Savior, you’d think there’d be a concerted effort to acquire her relics. But we don’t have any record of the early Christians claiming to have these precious remains of the Blessed Virgin.
A number of Church Fathers were relic hunters, so we know people were interested in the discovery of relics and who owned them. Given that the Church Fathers greatly expanded our theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you’d think they would be on top of any news of her remains.
But what about St. Joseph?
A counterargument you sometimes hear is that we also don’t see early Christians claiming to have St. Joseph’s relics. And Catholics don’t have any official teaching saying that St. Joseph was assumed to heaven, so we know his remains are still on earth.
This argument seems convincing. Although St. Joseph is one of the most popular saints of modern times, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, there didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in St. Joseph during the earliest centuries of the Church — at least based on current research. He starts to come into focus in the liturgies of the sixth and seventh centuries.
Defending the Assumption is tough and the above argument isn’t going to convince everybody. You’ll need to combine this with positive arguments for the Assumption based on other early teachings about Our Lady.
However, the argument still makes good points that support the Catholic position. Make sure to highlight the importance of relics in the early Church when you’re discussing the Assumption.
Many non-Catholics are unfamiliar with the early Church. Challenge them to read up on it. As St. John Henry Newman said, “To be deep into history is to cease to be Protestant.”