Have you procured a keg for today's discussion?
Readers have weighed in with the notion that the Assumption of Mary is much more easily explained that the Immaculate Conception. On the face of it that's certainly true. To begin with, you won't be up against years of misinformation and bad football related jokes about great catches of long passes. You won't have to talk about people who do not appear in the New Testament (Mary's parents) and you won't have to mention sex for any reason. Bonus.
We like to begin our discussion with the question: How many chairs do they need in Heaven? The answer is, two. There are two people who went to Heaven body and soul, Jesus and Mary. Yes, Elijah went to Heaven in a fiery chariot, but we think he burned up in the atmosphere on the way there.
The Assumption of Mary is rather simple. Mary was raised to Heaven, body and soul. That's the explanation and that's what it means and you're done.
People will be confused. Mary went to Heaven like Jesus?
No. No, she didn't. Jesus ascended into Heaven. He used His own Power, lifted off and up He went, gone until the Second Coming (visionary sightings notwithstanding). Mary was assumed into Heaven, not with her own power. She was raised into Heaven by the angels or Jesus or God the Father and Jesus or just God the Father or the Holy Spirit. We don't know. No one was there to see it.
Or....St. Thomas saw it and as she went into Heaven she gave him her girdle which was not what we think of when we say "girdle", but her belt. In the story, the belt is always referred to as a girdle.
"But wait," the thinkers among the group will ask, "if Mary didn't have Original Sin, why did she die? Death is the punishment for Original Sin." Let's hope at this point, there is still plenty left in the keg, because you are going to be here a while.
I have a priest friend to whom I turn with sticky questions, not just because he is a priest, but also because he has a PHd in dead languages and has actually read things like the Dead Sea Scrolls and has combed over the New Testament in its original text and such. The Catholic Church does not say that Mary died. The Catholic Church also does not say that Mary did not die. The Catholic Church rather vaguely says that Mary was assumed into Heaven when her life on earth came to an end. My friend the priest feels that Mary did die, because Jesus died (He also did not have the stain of Original Sin on His Soul), and Mary would not outdo Jesus.
I think my friend makes an excellent point, but it's not dogma. That said, just about anything you read about the Assumption of Mary will begin with "after Mary's death".
There are conflicting stories about the 'end' of Mary's life. The stories agree that Mary lived to a ripe old age (the Franciscans say 84...or is it 86? she was up there) and grew weak. Sacred Tradition holds that the disciples gathered and gave her things to eat and drink, and with her loving family, the earliest Catholic Church, around her she.....I would have to say died, because these people placed her in a tomb and when they returned she was gone and they assumed she was taken to Heaven by being assumed there.
Then we have the more fanciful stories where, as she is being assumed, St. Thomas is there and he gets the girdle she drops to him. I love the idea that poor 'doubting Thomas' gets a nod as a very true believer.
The Assumption of Mary into Heaven was not officially made dogma in the Catholic Church until 1950, but is obviously a belief that has been held from day one.
Perhaps you shouldn't mention the chairs in Heaven unless you have a designated driver, since Heaven isn't a physical place, but there are two bodies and what's left of Elijah up there. There's a keg you don't want to open.