When is Assumption of Mary (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian populations
Observed on August 15 by Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians but continued until August 23 in the Orthodox Church
Observed by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians
According to the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, as well as stipulated in Catholic theology, the soul and body of Mary, the mother of Jesus, revered as the Blessed Virgin Mary (Roman Catholic) or Theotokos (Eastern Orthodox), was taken into heaven when she died. Drawing on apostolic tradition, the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption was dogmatically defined-a statement of “infallibility” on it was issued-by Pope Pius XII (r.
1939–58) on November 1, 1950. Since Eastern Churches acknowledge neither the pope’s claim to authority over all Christians nor the doctrine of papal infallibility, the authorities of these churches do not view it as dogma as Roman Catholics do.
Nevertheless, this feast ranks as one of the 12 Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church calendar.
The Feast of the Assumption is Mary’s most important feast. The Assumption is significant to Christians because it is celebrated as Mary’s heavenly birthday (the day that Mary was taken into heaven). The belief that heaven received her is seen as proof of the promise Jesus made to all Christians that they, too, will be received into heaven. Both churches commemorate it on August 15. In the Eastern Orthodox Church this event is known as the Feast of the Dormition (literally, “falling asleep,” from Latin dormire, meaning “to sleep”), stressing the belief that the mother of Jesus did die a physical death before her Assumption.
The Feast of the Assumption is an official holiday in many countries, including Italy, France, Greece, and Spain, and many places hold festivals and parades in observance of the event. In the Lutheran and Anglican churches, the feast is also kept although without specific reference to the words assumption or dormition.
Origins and History
Like many holiday observances now thought of as Christian, the Feast of the Assumption probably originated in a European pagan festival. Its origins are probably in a rite dedicated to Artemis, the Greek goddess of transitions. Although considered a virgin, she was one of the goddesses associated with childbirth. She was also an avid hunter and protected her chastity fiercely, dealing mercilessly with anyone who threatened to compromise even the modesty of her attendants. Traces of this early ritual observance remain in some areas of Europe, where the Assumption is still called the Feast of Our Lady of the Harvest. Using the fortuitously shared attribute of virginity, the early church seized on the similarity between Artemis and Mary to draw pagans into Christianity.
The story of Mary’s Assumption into heaven following her death was initially related in narratives during the sixth and seventh centuries. Mary’s Assumption into heaven is not mentioned in the New Testament. The first person to write about the event in 594 was St. Gregory of Tours (538 or 539–593 or 594). Other early sermons on the feast include those of St. Modestus of Jerusalem, around 700.
On May 1, 1946, Pope Pius XII asked the archbishops of the world whether this belief should be defined as an article of faith and whether the bishops, along with their clergy, desired the definition.
Nearly every bishop replied in the affirmative. On November 1, 1950, on the day of the Feast of All Saints, Pope Pius XII declared the dogma that Mary’s body was taken up to heaven and reunited with her soul following her death.
Though there is no authentic knowledge of the day, date, and manner of Mary’s death, estimates normally range between three and fifteen years after the Ascension of Jesus. Both Ephesus (in Turkey) and Jerusalem claim to be the place where Mary died. Though according to tradition Mary lived at Ephesus following Jesus’ death, her tomb was apparently found in Jerusalem. Following Pentecost, it is said that Mary remained in Jerusalem, looking after the fledgling Christian community.
She was staying with the Apostle John, who later became known as the Evangelist. When she died (in her early 50s according to some) many of Christ’s Apostles were already scattered around the world, preaching the Gospel. According to tradition, all except Thomas were brought to the Blessed Virgin, carried on clouds. The disciples sang interment hymns and carried her to a tomb in a place called Cedron, which is near Gethsemane. A man tried to hinder their somber procession, but an angel appeared and cut off his hands, which were later restored. The Apostle Thomas arrived on the third day after Mary’s death and asked to see her one more time. When they opened the tomb to satisfy his request, the tomb was empty, and the Apostles concluded that her body had been assumed or taken up into heaven.
There is a significant difference between Jesus’ Ascension into heaven following the Resurrection and Mary’s Assumption. To “ascend” means to rise under one’s own power; while to be “assumed” is something that is done to one. The first action requires agency; the second is passive. Jesus, as the second element of the Christian Trinity, did not need any help; Mary did not have the same authority.
According to tradition, Mary was forewarned of her death by the Archangel Michael, who is believed to conduct souls to heaven. On her deathbed, she was surrounded by the Apostles, who had been transported miraculously to her bedside from their respective mission fields. It was believed that Jesus appeared, took away her soul, and came back three days following her burial, when angels took her body to paradise, where it was reunited with her soul.
The Feast of the Dormition celebrates the death, Assumption, and veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus. The feast is preceded by a two-week fast.
Like the Nativity of the Virgin (September 8–September 21) and the Feast of Mary’s Entrance into the Temple (November 21– December 4), this feast also comes from the apostolic tradition of the Catholic Church.
According to the church, Mary died a normal human death and was affected by the corruption in the world like everyone else. Mary needed to be saved by Jesus like the rest of the world from the suffering, trials, and mortality to which humans submit. When she died, she was raised by her son as the Mother of Life and now exists in the everlasting life of paradise, which is promised to everyone who imitates her life of modesty, obedience, and love.
The icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos (the mother of God in the Orthodox tradition) depicts Mary upon a funeral bier. Jesus, who is standing beside her, has come to take her soul to heaven. In his left arm he holds a child in white, representing Mary’s soul reborn in heaven. Jesus is robed in white and is seen in an aureole (an elongated halo) that portrays his divinity. The Apostles are portrayed on either side of the funeral bier. St.
Peter stands at the head of the funeral bier and leads the group on the left; St. Paul is at the foot of the bier and leads the group on the right. Below the bier is a figure of Antonius the Jew, the man who tried to hinder the funeral procession and was castigated, but who later atoned for his sins and was baptized into the Christian faith.
In Catholic countries, the Virgin Mary’s Assumption is one of the more popular festivals of the year. The theme of the heavenly crowning of Mary as the queen of heaven, which is often depicted in sculpture and paintings, is related to her Assumption into heaven, where she sits next to her son.
The title Mother of God was formally bestowed on Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431.