August 15th – The Feast Of The Assumption Of The Blessed Virgin Mary

Detail from stained glass window picturing the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

There are a number of feast days of Our Lady which the church celebrates during the course of the year, some of them more well-known than others. The feast of the Assumption of Mary is one of the most popular of all being the most celebrated around the world with all manner of festivities. It is one of the four solemnities of Our Lady, the others being the Immaculate Conception (December 8th); Mary, Mother of God  (January 1st) and the Annunciation (March 25th). This year though it falls on Saturday, the celebration of this solemnity is transferred to Sunday (16th).

Perhaps its popularity lies in part because of the time of year when it falls – during what we think of as the days of glorious summer sunshine when children are still at home from school enjoying their long summer holiday. (Probably many children this year are longing to get back to school to see their friends especially but also their teachers and to get into routine with their school work!)

At https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2020-08-15 Pius Parsch in “The Church’s Year of Grace” is poetically quoted:

“Now toward the end of the summer season, at a time when fruits are ripe in the gardens and fields, 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 the granary of heaven.”

It is an unusual way to think of Mary, but it makes such good sense of the season at which we celebrate her assumption. A few days ago, whilst watching the combine harvester doing its work in the fields (timely, just before the deluges of rain!) it was evident that this is a time of fruitfulness and bounty. It is a beautifully satisfying time of reward for work well done. As the most precious fruit of God’s kingdom, it is fitting that He should have brought Mary home to Him body and soul rather than allow her earthly body face decay. This is not only evidence of God’s great work in her and true justice for Mary but a cause of real joy for us. Christ’s resurrection showed us the reality of the promise of Heaven and life everlasting. Mary’s assumption makes definite that Heaven and life everlasting really are for us mere mortals.

Though the Assumption is the oldest of Our Lady’s feast days, the dogma was not defined until 1st November 1950 by Pope Pius X11 when he solemnly proclaimed that the belief definitively forms part of the deposit of faith received from the Apostles. To avoid all that is uncertain he did not state anything other than the fact that Mary was taken body and soul to Heaven. With his declaration an ancient belief became Catholic doctrine and the Assumption was declared a truth revealed by God.

The article continues with a very interesting excerpt from Fr. Clifford Stevens in “Catholic Heritage” in which he traces the origins of the feast of the Assumption and belief in it back to the very early days of Christianity, to the apostles themselves and the lack of relics of Mary’s body. This would have been remarkable had her remains survived given that she was the most important of all Christ’s followers and the reverence paid to the remains of other early saints. This, alone, is a pointer to the Assumption.

For those who have reservations about different aspects of Catholic teaching, such as this, which don’t appear to be biblical, it provides the type of historical detail upon which, in addition to the scriptures, our teachings are built.  With Christ our foundation cornerstone, our church is built primarily on Sacred Scripture and also the derivations of the understanding of it in Sacred Tradition – dutifully passed from generation to generation.

For further interesting articles you might like to try the Catholic Answers web page on the Assumption of Mary at  https://www.catholic.com/search?q=assumption which provides a range of topics including the historical and scriptural basis for the Assumption. At https://udayton.edu/imri/ the University of Dayton International Marian Research Institute web site provides a great deal of scholarly articles on all sorts of aspects of Marian devotion including the Assumption. You might prefer to listen to Scott Hahn, the great scriptural scholar and engaging speaker, at https://stpaulcenter.com/the-assumption-of-the-blessed-virgin-mary/  It’s a short eight minute video which you could follow up by researching his different videos on YouTube. He’s always fascinating to listen to and easily sparks our interest in getting to know a bit more about our faith.  (Though there may be many things on the internet which do a great deal of harm there is also much to gain from it when wisely used and for us to thank God for!)

To return to Fr. Clifford Stevens’ article he explains that all of Mary’s feast days mark the great mysteries of her life and her part in the work of redemption. Her divine motherhood is central (celebrated at Christmas as well as January 1st). The Immaculate Conception marks her preparation for that motherhood since she had the fullness of grace, completely untouched by sin, from the first moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, St Ann. The Assumption completes God’s work in her. It is “…God’s crowning of His work as Mary ends her earthly life and enters eternity. The feast turns our eyes in that direction, where we will follow when our earthly life is over.”

In light of Mary’s immaculate  conception, which preserved her from original sin, and her completely sinless life it follows that God would assume her body directly into Heaven at her death. She had already achieved the perfection necessary to stand before God so Purgatory was unnecessary. Furthermore, her body in addition to her soul could be assumed unlike the rest of humankind who, due to our sinfulness, suffer the consequences of death – separation of body and soul. Consequently, all other humans in Heaven, not only Purgatory, await the end of time for the reunification of their body and soul in their glorified, resurrected, eternal bodies.

 Fr. Clifford sums up the importance of the Church celebrating feast days and the Assumption of Mary in particular when he writes “The feast days of the Church are not just the commemoration of historical events; they do not look only to the past. They look to the present and to the future and give us an insight into our own relationship with God. The Assumption looks to eternity and gives us hope that we, too, will follow Our Lady when our life is ended.”

Things to Do: also from https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2020-08-15

  • The Directory on Popular Piety talks about the deep significance of this feast day. It also refers to the custom of blessing herbs which came to be associated with Mary largely because of the naturalistic biblical images of her.

This Blessing of Herbs is included in the prayers library.

  • In an age of sensuality and materialism the Assumption points out the dignity and destiny of our human body, extols the dignity of womanhood, and turns our eyes to the true life beyond the grave. At Mass today ask Mary for the grace to keep your mind fixed on things above and to aspire continually to be united with her and to be brought to the glory of the Resurrection.