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Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven

Commemorated on August 15
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven
As early as the 200s, Christians documented belief in the transport of Mary's body, as well as her soul, to heaven. "And the Lord said to Michael: 'Let them bring the body of Mary into the clouds.' ... And when they had entered paradise, the body of Mary went to the tree of life; and they brought her soul and made it enter her body" (Syriac narrative, The Obsequies of the Holy Virgin, quoted in   
Sources include:
Hans-Josef Klauck, Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction, Brian McNeil, tr., London, T&T Clark International, 2003
Stephen J. Shoemaker, "Early Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition (Dormitio Mariae),"
Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York, 1976, Chapter 6.
Web Gallery of Art, (picture)
"Assumption of Mary," Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2011,
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P, "The Assumption," The Mary Page, University of Dayton, Ohio, 2002,

Fra Angelico, The Death and the Assumption of the Virgin, c1432. Originally painted on a reliquary for Santa Maria Novella in Florence and now in the Gardner Museum, Boston, this work combines the ancient iconography of the Dormition--showing the Virgin's body surrounded by the Apostles, while Christ receives her soul, shown as a baby because reborn into heaven--with the evolving imagery of the Assumption.  


Like every holy person's, Mary's soul goes to heaven. The difference is that, like Jesus's, her body goes too. In some stories, this happens before she really dies. In others, she is dead for moments, days, or eons before her soul rejoins and reanimates her body. As with Jesus, there are no bones of Mary for veneration. The only relics claimed for her have been clothing, jewelry, hair, and milk.  


In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed Mary's Assumption a Catholic dogma: "the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory" (Munificentissimus Deus). He didn't specify whether she died first; Catholic doctrine leaves that open.  St. Epiphanius of Salamis (Cyprus, d. 403) had written, "No one knows how her life ended." But the Assumption of Mary is a nexus of Catholic faith: in God's power to resurrect the body and give everlasting life; in Mary's Immaculate Conception and freedom from the bodily corruption caused by original sin; in her ability to appear in the flesh to guide and comfort believers. As such it has been the occasion of glorious works of art and of the major summer holiday in Catholic Europe and in Greece.
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches honor most saints on the day they entered heaven -- their death date. Emperor Maurice (d. 602) set August 15 as the feast of Mary's Dormition (Κοίμησις, falling asleep) throughout the Byzantine Empire. The feast was celebrated in the Latin church by the time of Pope Sergius I (d. 701), who ordered that a procession be held on this date, a custom preserved in many communities. The coincident Italian civil holiday, Ferragosto, goes back to the Feriae Augusti, Holidays of Augustus (d. 14), and, before that, to seasonal rites of Diana. Many Orthodox churches precede the Feast of the Dormition with a two-week fast, similar to the longer Lenten fast preceding the Easter feast of Christ's resurrection.



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