The Solemnity of the Assumption is also known as the Feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) of Mary in Eastern Churches. This holiday commemorates Mary's assumption into heaven.

Basic Facts

Liturgical Color(s): White

Type of Holiday: Solemnity, Holy Day of Obligation (West); Feast (East)

Time of Year: August 15

Duration: One Day

Celebrates/Symbolizes: The Blessed Virgin Mary's Assumption into Heaven

Alternate Names: "Dormition" or "Falling Asleep" of the Theotokos, Koimesis (sleep), Analepsis (translation), Marymass, St Mary's Day

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Scriptural References

1 Chronicles 15:3-4, 15-16, 16:1-2

 

3 And he gathered all Israel together into Jerusalem, that the ark of God might be brought into its place, which he had prepared for it.

4 And the sons of Aaron also, and the Levites.

15 And the sons of Levi took the ark of God as Moses had commanded, according to the word of the Lord, upon their shoulders, with the staves.

16 And David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites, to appoint some of their brethren to be singers with musical instruments, to wit, on psalteries, and harps, and cymbals, that the joyful noise might resound on high.

So they brought the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tent, which David had pitched for it: and they offered holocausts, and peace offerings before God.

2 And when David had made an end of offering holocausts, and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord.

Revelation 12:1-17

The Woman and the Dragon

And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars:

2 And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.

3 And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems:

4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son.

5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.

6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, that there they should feed her a thousand two hundred sixty days.

The War in Heaven

7 And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels:

8 And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.

9 And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: because the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night.

11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of the testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death.

12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you that dwell therein. Woe to the earth, and to the sea, because the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.

The Dragon Persecutes the Woman

13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman, who brought forth the man child:

14 And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert unto her place, where she is nourished for a time and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman, water as it were a river; that he might cause her to be carried away by the river.

16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river, which the dragon cast out of his mouth.

17 And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

History

Introduction

Although probably not unknown in the early Church, the earliest references to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary appear in the 4th (or possibly late 3rd) century in Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary's Repose), and in the writings of a Bishop Meliton. Some of the Church Fathers believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) was assumed while still alive, others that she was assumed after she had died. Both views are permitted under the infallible definition of Pius XII. St. John of Damascus (d. AD 755) relates a tradition where, during the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), the emperor Marcian and his wife wished to find the body of Mary. He tells how all the apostles had seen her death, but her tomb was empty upon inspection.

Festivals commemorating the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary were common from the 5th century onwards, although the exact dates were never universally fixed. In AD 556 the patriarch of Alexandria, Theodosius, attests to two popular Marian feasts in Egypt: Mary's death (January 16) and Assumption (August 9). Theodosius understood Mary to have died before being assumed, and according to the feast dates in Egypt at the time, she was assumed 206 days after her death. In AD 600, the emperor Mauricius decreed that the Assumption was to be celebrated on August 15. Soon, the Church in Ireland adopted this date, and it was later introduced in Rome. As the cult of Mary grew in the West, there was more pressure for the Catholic Church to define the exact nature of the Assumption. Pope Pius did this in 1950, in terms that are still rather general, and can be accepted by Western Catholics, Eastern Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox (See the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church for more information).

The Orthodox Church teaches that the Virgin Mary died a fully human death before being assumed, and celebrates the feast accordingly. Most Church Fathers and Christians throughout history have held this view. According to various traditions known in the East, St. Thomas was not around when Mary passed away, just as he was absent when Jesus was raised from the dead. Because he was three days late to Mary's funeral, he requested to see Mary's body. However, when her tomb was opened, her body was not found. This is not viewed as a resurrection like her Son's, but as the first fruits of our own bodily resurrection. In one of the most complicated of Christian Hymns (utilizing all 8 tones) the Orthodox are shown the story of her journeying to heaven as her funeral procession. The apostles act as her pall-bearers. As she arrives in heaven, she is the first given the task of all the glorified saints, that of praying for us to her Son and our Lord. As a part of the interior mysteries of the Orthodox Church, the Assumption is not a point of dogma or debate, yet it is a commonly accepted belief among Orthodox Christians. Even as the faithful bury the Theotokos and see her translated to a life of intercession, we are reminded that it is through her that the Word was made flesh (many thanks to Steven Clark for this information).

Protestants have overwhelmingly rejected the Assumption of Mary theologically and devotionally, probably because it is not explicitly spelled out in the bible. Many Reformation denominations (like Anglicanism and Lutheranism) have set aside August 15th as a day to commemorate the Blessed Virgin Mary, although without the explicit context of the Assumption. However, the Assumption of Mary is an ancient belief certainly fitting the honor of the one chosen to bear the Son of God. This dogma is solidly within the biblical tradition of holy and unique individuals being taken bodily to heaven (like Elijah and Enoch). She who is "Mother of the Lord," "full of grace," and whom "all generations shall call blessed" is certainly worthy of this honor. Church Father John of Damascus describes the importance of celebrating the Assumption quite well:

Let us then also keep the solemn [Assumption] feast today to honour the joyful departure of God's Mother...Thus, recognizing God's Mother in this Virgin, we celebrate her falling asleep, not proclaiming her as God - far be from us these heathen fables - since we are announcing her death, but recognizing her as the Mother of the Incarnate God...Let us honour her in nocturnal vigil; let us delight in her purity of soul and body, for she next to God surpasses all in purity...Let us show our love for her by compassion and kindness towards the poor...Let our souls rejoice in the Ark of God...With Gabriel, the great archangel, let us exclaim, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, inexhaustible ocean of grace. Hail, sole refuge in grief. Hail, cure of hearts. Hail, through whom death is expelled and life is installed" (Sermon II: On the Assumption).

"We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: 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." With these words, Pope Pius XII infallibly declared the Assumption of Mary, the Mother of God (theotokos), to be Catholic dogma in 1950. In this pronouncement, he was simply stating dogmatically what the Church, East and West, had believed for hundreds of years. The Catholic Catechism further explains:

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians (966).

The Catechism then quotes from the Troparion of the Feast of the Dormition from the Byzantine Liturgy:

In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death. (966)

Thus, the Assumption of Mary is not only a participation in her Son's resurrection, but a preview of our future resurrections. As such, the dogma of Mary's Assumption is firmly rooted in the actions and person of Christ, and in the virtue of Christian hope.

Traditions, Symbols, & Typology

Traditions

Dedicating the "new" bread to the BVM at Harvest Festivals
Blessing of medicinal plants to be used during the year 

Symbols

Mary Borne by Angels &/or Being Crowned

Empty Tomb

Clouds

Lily

Crown

 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Can the Assumption of Mary be True if it Was Not Made Dogma Until 1950?

First, recall that neither the Catholic Church nor the Orthodox Churches believe in the concept of sola scriptura, the 16th century Protestant concept that doctrines must be proved from Scripture alone. Thus, just because the Assumption of Mary is not explicitly found in Scripture is not problematic. Second, just because a belief is made dogma in 1950 doesn't mean that the belief has not been true beforehand, or that is was invented in 1950. Widespread belief in the Assumption of Mary goes back at least to the 4th century, and the titles and honors given to Mary that have led to the dogma unfolding (e.g. "New Eve," "Full of Grace," and "New Ark of the Covenant") go back to the time of the Apostles and early Church Fathers.

Truth unfolds, or rather, the implications and how's and whys of certain truths unfold. It took a hundred years after Jesus' birth for a gospel clearly outlining Jesus' divinity to appear, even though the earliest gospels hint at Jesus having the authority and attributes of God. It was over 300 years after Jesus' birth when the Trinity was clearly defined, even though Christians had been baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit since Apostolic Times. This delay in dogmatizing the Trinity does not mean that God was not a Trinity until AD 325, or that the early Christians did not believe in some type of Divine Triad. Rather, over time, with reflection and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the Church comes to deeper understandings of certain truths. Thus later enunciations of certain truths will be more complex than earlier explanations. Vatican II explains development like this:

The tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts, through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her" (Dei Verbum 8).

Thus, just because the Assumption was not made dogma until 1950 does not lessen the importance of the feast, or render the dogma unbelievable. The reason Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption to be dogma was because so many people believed in it and cherished it, not to invent something new.

 
This Section written by  and Jonathan Bennett. Last updated 08-14-2013..
 

Mediation

The Feast of Mary's Assumption

by: Marcellino D'Ambrosio

This discussion of the Catholic Doctrine of Mary's Assumption, defined by Pope Pius XII as a dogma of faith, originally appeared as an article on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in Our Sunday Visitor.

I once asked a college theology class if anyone could explain the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary.  A student replied, “yeah, that’s the teaching whereby the Catholic Church ‘assumes’ that Mary is in heaven.”

There’s a bit more to the dogma of the Assumption than that.  The Church does not just “assume” that any canonized saint in is in heaven.  Rather, it authoritatively declares that a person is in glory and should therefore be honored in liturgy and imitated in life.   Our church calendar is filled with saints' days.

But why a particular day for each saint?  The first evidence for this goes back to 155AD, to a bishop named Polycarp.  The account of his martyrdom notes that after his execution, the faithful collected his bones, more precious than gold, and put them in a place of honor where every year they gathered to celebrate the anniversary of his death as a sort of “birthday” into eternal life.   Celebrating Mass in the catacombs over the relics of the martyrs' led to the practice of putting relics in the main altar of every church. Eventually saints who did not die a martyrs death were also commemorated on their heavenly “birthday” and their relics were accorded great honor.

From very early times, August 15 has been observed as the “birthday” of our Blessed Lady.  On this greatest of all Marian feasts we celebrate the greatest moment of her life – being permanently re-united with her son and sharing his glory.

All the saints experience the “beatific vision” upon their entry into heaven, and we celebrate this on every saint’s day.  But there is something unique about Mary’s day.  The Catholic Church teaches authoritatively that it is not just Mary’s soul that was admitted to God’s glory, but that at the end of her earthly life, Mary’s body as well as her soul was assumed into heaven by the loving power of God.

There is no eyewitness account of this actual event recorded in the Bible.  Come to think of it, though, no one witnessed the actual resurrection of Jesus either.   The evidence was an empty tomb and eyewitness reports that the Risen Lord had appeared to them.

Interesting parallel here.  There is a tomb at the foot of the Mt. of Olives where ancient tradition says that Mary was laid.  But there is nothing inside.  There are no relics, as with other saints.  And credible apparitions of Mary, though not recorded in the New Testament, have been recorded from the 3rd century till today.

Mary is not equal to Christ, of course.  Jesus, though possessing a complete human nature, is the Eternal Word made flesh.  Mary is only a creature.

But she is a unique creature, the highest of all creatures.  This is not just because she was born without the handicap of original sin.  Eve and Adam were born free of sin as well, but it did not stop them from sinning as soon as they had the chance.  Mary instead chose, with the help of God’s grace,  to preserve her God-given purity throughout the whole of her life. 

The bodily corruption of death was not God’s original plan.  It came into the world through sin, as St. Paul says “the sting of death is sin” (I Cor 15:56).  So it is fitting that she who knew no sin should know no decay and no delay in enjoying the full fruits of her son’s work.  It is fitting that she who stood by Christ under the cross should stand by him bodily at the right hand of the Father.  “The Queen stands at your right hand, in gold of Ophir” (Ps 45).  Enoch and Elijah, who the Old Testament says were assumed into heaven, were surely great in God’s eyes.  But they do not begin to compare with the immaculate mother of His Son.

We too, one day, insofar as we accept God’s grace, will stand at His right hand.  But Paul says that “all will come to life again, but each one in proper order” (I Cor 15:23).  The Redeemer, of course, blazes the resurrection trail.  But who is to be first among his disciples?  The one who is last is first, the Lord’s humble handmaid who did no more than say yes, and keep saying yes, and whose soul magnified not herself, but the Lord.

 
Daily Meditation by
2013 
Don Schwager


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