Event Name: Assumption of Mary-Holy Day of Obligation
Date: Aug 15, 2012
August 15 is the day that Catholics have long celebrated what is called the Dormition (falling asleep) or Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Feast of the Assumption celebrates both the happy departure of Mary from this life by her natural death, and her assumption bodily into heaven.
Along with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) the Assumption is a principal feast of the Blessed Virgin and a Holy Day of Obligation -- one of the most important feasts of the Church year. (In the United States, in 1991, the US bishops amended the Church calendar by removing the obligation to attend Mass whenever January 1, August 15, or November 1 fell on a Saturday or a Monday. Their action was approved by the Holy See in 1992.)
Now at the end of the summer season, the Church celebrates the most glorious "harvest festival" in the Communion of Saints -- Mary, the supremely blessed one among women, Mary, the most precious fruit which has ripened in the fields of God's kingdom, is today taken into heaven.
The idea of the assumption of Mary into heaven after her death is first expressed in narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these were never official, they bear witness to the very early belief in a teaching of the Catholic Church which was not formally defined as a dogma (a teaching essential to the Catholic faith) until 50 years ago.
Though it was almost universally believed for more than a thousand years, the Bible contains no mention of the assumption of Mary into heaven. The first Church writer to speak of Mary's being taken up into heaven by God is Saint Gregory of Tours (594). Other early sermons on the Feast of Mary's entry into heaven are those of Ps.-Modestus of Jerusalem (ca. 700).
On May 1, 1946, Pope Pius XII, asked all bishops in the world whether they thought this belief in the assumption of Mary into heaven should be defined as a proposition of faith, and whether they with their clergy and people desired the definition. Almost all the bishops replied in the affirmative.
On November 1, 1950, the Feast of All Saints, Pope Pius XII declared as a dogma revealed by God that "Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven".
We have no real knowledge of the day, year, and manner of Our Lady's death. The dates which have been assigned to her death vary between three and fifteen years after Christ's Ascension. Both Jerusalem and Ephesus claim to be the place where she died. (By tradition, Mary lived at Ephesus after the death of Jesus.) Mary's tomb was presumably found in Jerusalem. It is believed that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that after her burial, her tomb, when opened, was found empty. Therefore, they concluded that her body had been taken up (assumed) into heaven.
Saint Gregory of Tour provided a rationale for the tradition, which is related to her having been preserved from original sin. He said that it is inconceivable to think Mary's sinless body, likened to the Ark of the Covenant which was made of incorruptible wood, should decay in the grave. The text, 'Rise thou and the ark of thy strength' (Ps 132/1:8) was understood to mean that it was God's will that, as Christ had ascended, so too Mary would be received into heaven.
There is an important difference, of course, between the ascension of Jesus into Heaven after His Resurrection, and the assumption of Mary. To ascend is to rise up under one's own power; while to be assumed means something that is done to one. Jesus, being the Second Person of the Trinity, had no need of assistance; whereas Mary did not have this power. (A pastor once demonstrated this difference in an unusual way. He asked two children to come to the front of the church. He told one child to walk from one side of the sanctuary to the other; and the other child he carried across.)
According to one tradition, Mary was warned of her approaching end by Saint Michael the Archangel, who conducts souls to Heaven, and was surrounded on her death-bed by the apostles, who were miraculously transported to her bedside from their various mission-fields. It was said that Jesus appeared, bore away her soul, and returned three days after her burial, when angels carried her body to Paradise where it was reunited with her soul under the Tree of Life.
Observance of the Assumption
In Catholic countries the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the most popular festivals of the year.
The increased number and splendor of paintings of Mary's assumption into heaven from the late sixteenth century onwards, in which Mary appears as "a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with twelve stars on her head for a crown" (from the description in the Book of Revelation 12:1), attests the depth of popular devotion to this manifestation of divine grace bestowed on the Mother of God.
The theme of the heavenly coronation of the Blessed Virgin as Queen of Heaven, often represented paintings and sculpture, is related to her being assumed into Heaven where she reigns next to her Divine Son.
The title "Mother of God" (in Greek, Theotokos), was officially conferred upon Mary at the Council of Ephesus, in 431. (As an Anglican bishop once responded to Protestant objections to this title for Mary, "If she was not the mother of God, who was she the mother of?")
The Feast of the Assumption has always been loved dearly by the faithful who are children of Mary. It is a sign to us that someday, through God's grace and our efforts, we too may join the Blessed Mother in giving glory to God. The Assumption is a source of great hope for us, too, for it points the way for all followers of Christ who imitate her fidelity and obedience to God's will. Where she now is, we are meant eventually to be, and may hope to be through Divine grace. Mary's being taken to heaven after her life on earth was ended is the logical outcome of her immaculate nature, uniquely protected -- also by God's grace -- from personal sin. We seek to imitate her self-sacrificing love, her indestructible faith and her perfect obedience.
"Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled."
For Christians, death is not extinction, though, unlike Mary, all ordinary mortals, even the most faithful Christians, the saints, must await the Second Coming of Christ and the general Resurrection to receive our "glorified bodies".
'May we see heaven as our goal and come to share her glory'.
The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907.
Metford, J.C.J. The Christian Year. New York: Crossroad Pub., 1991.
Ott, Ludwig, Dr. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. trans. Patrick Lynch. Tan Books and Publishers Inc., 1960.
Parsch, Pius, The Church's Year of Grace. Collegeville, MN.: The Liturgical Press, 1959.
Vitz, Evelyn Birge. A Continual Feast. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991.
HYMN: The Ark which God has Sanctified
The ark which God has sanctified,
Which He has filled with grace,
Within the temple of the Lord
Has found a resting-place.
More glorious than the seraphim,
This ark of love divine,
Corruption could not blemish her
Whom death could not confine.
God-bearing Mother, Virgin chaste,
Who shines in heaven's sight;
She wears a royal crown of stars
Who is the door of Light.
To Father, Son and Spirit blest
may we give endless praise
With Mary, who is Queen of heaven,
Through everlasting days.
(from Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal)
- We lift up our prayers to be one with the Blessed Mother who today was assumed into heaven:
- That the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, will guide and support all Church leaders with her maternal love.
- That all people will revere the sanctity of human life, and for an end to abortion and euthanasia.
- For blessings on children, especially those who are orphaned or abused.
- For the grace to live modestly and chastely.
- Eternal Word, you taught your mother Mary to choose the part that was best; let us follow her example and hunger for the food of everlasting life.
Loving Father, you have raised up the Blessed Virgin Mary to share in your communion of love. Accept us into that holy embrace through the sacrifice of our prayers. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Compiled from Daily Office books)
"Jesus gave every human being to Mary, and commanded her to show to each one of us the heart of a mother. Mary fulfilled this, and she continues throughout eternity to fulfill with an incomparable perfection this command of God, just as she had all the others."
Venerable Charles de Foucauld
[We seek to] attain to the unity of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and up builds itself in love.
- Ephesians 4: 13-16
(Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition)
"The more we are sinners, the more she has tenderness and compassion for us."
- Saint John Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars
Hymn: Immaculate Mary
Immaculate Mary, thy praises we sing,
Who reignest in splendor with Jesus, Our King.
Ave, ave, ave Maria! Ave, ave Maria!
In heaven the blessed thy glory proclaim;
On earth, we, thy children, invoke thy sweet name!
Ave, ave, ave Maria! Ave, ave Maria!
We pray for our mother, the Church upon earth;
And bless, dearest Lady, the land of our birth.
Ave, ave, ave Maria! Ave, ave Maria!
(The Adoremus Hymnal - p 532)
First Reading: 1 Chr 15:3-4, 15,16;16:1-2
David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place, which he had prepared for it. And David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites: And the Levites carried the ark of God upon their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brethren as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.
And they brought the ark of God, and set it inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord.
Second Reading: 1 Cor 15:54b-57
"Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Gospel Reading: Lk 11:27-28
As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!" But He said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
FIRST READING: Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
"A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet"
God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of His covenant could be seen in the temple.
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and His throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Anointed One."
SECOND READING: I Corinthians 15:20-27
"Christ the firstfruits, then those who belong to Him".
Brothers and sisters: Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man.
For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order:
Christ the firstfruits; then, at His coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to His God and Father, when He has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for "He subjected everything under His feet."
GOSPEL READING: Luke 1:39-56
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity for ever." And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.