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The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

Assumption Feast History, Information, Prayers, Resources, Traditions, & More

Assumption Definition and Summary

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. Prayers: Assumption Prayers

Basic Facts

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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
Scriptural References: 1 Chronicles 15:3-4, 15-16, 16:1-2; Revelation 12:1-17

Introduction

"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.

History

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).

Worship and Prayer Resources

Prayers for the Feast of the Assumption / Dormition of Mary
Sermon I: On the Assumption of Mary St. John of Damascus
Sermon II: On the Assumption of Mary St. John of Damascus
Sermon III: On the Assumption of Mary St. John of Damascus

Assumption of Mary Art, Photos, and Images

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The Virgin With Angels (Bouguereau)

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The Assumption of the Virgin (Murillo)

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Icon of the Dormition (Theophanes the Greek)

More Liturgical Artwork

Mary Books and Devotions

              

              

Traditions, Symbols, and Typology

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

Symbols
Mary Borne by Angels &/or Being Crowned
Empty Tomb
Clouds
Lily
Crown

Old Testament Typology Foreshadowing The Assumption of Mary
The Assumption of Elijah
The Assumption of Enoch
The Ark of the Covenant (the Fathers called Mary the "new ark")

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 hows 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.

See also A Brief Catechism About Mary

General Links

A Brief Catechism About Mary
We Believe in the Virgin Birth

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



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