Tag Archives: Dormition

Mary’s transitus to heaven

AssumptionThe perfect union of the Blessed Virgin Mary with God
Mid-August finds a good many of the Eastern and Western churches commemorating the move of Mary to heaven. In the East the feast is called the Dormition (koímesis); in the West it is called the Assumption (assumptio). This is a favorite feast for me.

St. Germanus of Constantinople preached: “You, O Mother, are close to all and protect all, and though our eyes cannot see you, we know, O Most Holy One, that you dwell among us and make yourself present in the most varied ways… Your virginal body is entirely holy, entirely chaste, entirely God’s dwelling place so for this reason it is absolutely incorruptible. It is unchangeable since what was human in it has been taken up in incorruptibility, remaining alive and absolutely glorious, undamaged, and sharing in perfect life. Indeed, it was impossible that the one who had become the vase of God and the living temple of the most holy divinity of the Only Begotten One be enclosed in a tomb of the dead. Rather, we certainly believe you continue to walk with us.”

The observance of the feast dates back to the first millennium and defined in the 20th century. Mary is a figure of the heavenly Jerusalem!

We know from liturgical historical scholarship that Several Armenian lectionaries found in Jerusalem witness to a celebration of Mary as Theotókos on August 15; the documents tell us this feast arose in the fifth century, probably after the Council of Ephesus in 431. The Eastern feast was imposed on the entire Byzantine Empire by the Emperor Mauritius at the end of the sixth century. It spread to the West and since the eighth century it has been known as the “assumption” of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In comparison, the Coptic Church liturgically commemorates the Virgin’s death and assumption on two different days. You will recall that the Catholic official teaching –definitely defined– happened not in the early centuries of Church history, but on November 1, 1950. Pope Pius XII taught that according to the tradition Mary was raised body and soul to the glory of heaven was proclaimed a dogma.

The 4 canonical Gospels do not speak of Mary’s later years. But it’s the apocryphal Gospels which speak  of Mary dying with the apostles gathered around her, and of her later appearing to them as they celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice. What do we have about Mary’s ultimate existence on earth? The Church uses the apocryphal Gospels together with the fact that no certain relic of Mary’s body exists thus giving the Church room to contemplate the last moments of Mary’s life on earth in the light of Christ’s victory over death. Hence, we bless flowers and herbs on this feast (indicating no mortal remains was left in the tomb carved for Mary) and we teach that what was gifted to Mary is gifted by the Savior to us who believe in Him.

The Assumption (Dormition) of the Blessed Virgin Mary – a period of fast

Dormition of the BVM, french unknown master.jpgAugust 1 through 14 is a period of fasting in the
Byzantine churches in preparation for the feast of the Dormition of the
Theotokos (Assumption) on August 15.  

Unfortunately, we in the Roman Church have lost the Assumption fast, but we continue to bless herbs and flowers on this solemnity.

It is truly right to bless you, O
Theotokos, as the ever-blessed and immaculate Mother of our God. More honorable
than the cherubim, and by far more glorious than the seraphim, ever a virgin, you
gave birth to God the Word; O true Theotokos, we magnify you!

“Dostojno je.”

Assumption/Dormition fast

Death of the Virgin Caravaggio.jpgThose Christians who are not Orthodox –as in, Orthodox Christians or Eastern Orthodox or some version of this– are likely not to be aware that today begins the traditional time of fasting in preparation for the great feast of the of the Assumption (if you are Catholic) or Dormition (if you are Orthodox) of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Theotokos), the all-holy Mother of God. In fact, the Churches of East and West are called upon to prepare for the yearly festival of our Lady by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Sound familiar? Indeed, the 3-point spiritual discipline is identical with Lent and Advent.

The period of fast I am speaking of today is a period of time that ought to be understood as training ourselves to be spiritually vigilant. That all of us, no matter of Church membership, should be attentive to and practice fasting so that our hearts and mind and bodies are opened up to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Put another way, by fasting what could the Lord be offering us to know and love and live? Our prayerful vigilance for the feast of the Assumption/Dormition ought to be rekindled by Catholics because the practice opens us up to God’s grace. Whether a Catholic takes on 14 days of fasting or something more modest it is a personal choice. But do something! And while I can’t guarantee much, I can say that if we are faithful to the spiritual practices of the Church they will give us new eyes of faith, the eyes of the beatitudes, a new mentality with which to assess the world in which we live today. That is, to look with the same mercy and openness that God has for us due to the Incarnation.
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches celebrate the same event, Mary’s departure from earth, but each call the event by a different name. The Orthodox say that Mary died a natural death as any human being would, that her soul was received by her Son, Jesus, and on the third day her body was resurrected but didn’t suffer bodily corruption. Catholicism says Mary was assumed by God’s own power like that of Elias, into heaven body and soul at the moment of death. Catholic dogma defined by the Church leaves it an open question as to whether Mary died (see Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950).
At any rate the Christian Churches of East and West up until today celebrates this significant feast of the Mother of God liturgically and has done so since the early years following the Council of Ephesus (431). Some point to the Jerusalem liturgical practices of the burial services of the Virgin as imitating those done on Good Friday for Jesus. The point is that the Assumption/Dormition feast is prepared for by a period of fasting, preparing the whole person to receive anew the Paschal Mystery wrought by Mary.
The period of fast lasts until August 14th. Remember, the Assumption/Dormition feast is the same solemn feast observed by both the Eastern and Western Churches but with different emphases depending on the Church that you belong to. But one should note that this fast has a stricter sense than even that of the Nativity and Apostles’ fasts.
The Orthodox Church’s rules for fasting can be found here and if you are Catholic it might be a good idea to consider some time in prayer and fasting as a path to celebrate the Marian feast of the Assumption or Dormition on August 15th.
PS: The Assumption is my most favorite of Marian feasts!

Herbs Blessing, Byzantine style

In an age old tradition of the Church, the faithful experience a blessing of herbs and  flowers on the Solemnity of the Assumption. Here is a blessing taken from the Byzantine ritual and so we ought to say the “Dormition”, this is the proper term in the East for what the Latins call the Assumption of Mary.

O almighty, eternal God, by your word alone You created out of nothing the heavens, earth, sea, and all things visible and invisible. You commanded that the earth give forth plants and trees for the needs of man and animal, each according to its need. In your infinite goodness You ordained that these plants serve not only as food for the animals but also as medicine for the sick body. We beseech you, bless these different plants and fruits and bestow upon them your blessing, and endow them with your power, so that they may serve man and animal like as a defense against all sickness and all that is impure: for You are our God and we give glory to You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and forever. Amen.

These flowers (or: plants) are blessed and sanctified by the sprinkling of this holy water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Herbs Blessing on the Assumption Solemnity, August 15

It is customary in the Western Church, since at least the 10th century, for the priest to bless herbs on the Solemnity of the Assumption. The Eastern Church likely had a similar formulary much earlier.

As a point of liturgical fact, the Church asks God to bless herbs and flowers –and thus us– to remind all of us of the gifts God has given us for our sustenance, healing and beauty. In many places the faithful had all their flowers blessed, especially those closely associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Herbs blessing, therefore, is another example of giving thanks, a key theological and liturgical point in our life of faith. While customary it is not likely to be used in many parishes. The collects for the herbs blessing rich and savory.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001) says of herbs blessing:

Thumbnail image for Herbs.jpg

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15 August) is deeply imbedded in popular piety. In many places the feast is synonymous with the person of Our Lady, and is simply referred to as “Our Lady’s Day” or as the “Immacolada” in Spain and Latin America.

In the Germanic countries, the custom of blessing herbs is associated with 15 August. This custom, received into the Rituale Romanum (200), represents a clear example of the genuine evangelization of pre-Christian rites and beliefs: one must turn to God, through whose word “the earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seeds in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds” (Gen 1, 12) in order to obtain what was formerly obtained by magic rites; to stem the damages deriving from poisonous herbs, and benefit from the efficacy of curative herbs.

This ancient use came to be associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, in part because of the biblical images applied to her such as vine, lavender, cypress and lily, partly from seeing her in terms of a sweet smelling flower because of her virtue, and most of all because of Isaiah 11, 1, and his reference to the “shoot springing
from the side of Jesse”, which would bear the blessed fruit of Jesus.

The Order of Blessing of Herbs is found here.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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