On Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, Catholics around the world will celebrate the Blessed Virgin’s principal feast day. A holy day of obligation, the feast commemorates Mary’s death and the assumption of her body and soul into heaven.
“She becomes the first witness of what will happen to each of us; namely, that our earthly bodies will become heavenly. … It is a sign of great hope,” explained Paulist Fr. Bruce Nieli, a past director of evangelization of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who was named a Missionary of Mercy of Pope Francis during last year’s Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Now based at St. Austin Church in Austin, Texas, Fr. Bruce served as a missionary in the Layton area in 1968.
“The Assumption is basically a kind of another way of looking at the Incarnation – the intimacy between Word and flesh, between God and man, between heaven and earth,” Fr. Bruce said.
The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is known as the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
“For the Orthodox, the Assumption is the third most important feast, right after Easter and Christmas,” Fr. Bruce said. “It’s one of the things that connect the Catholics and Orthodox.”
Nothing is known for certain about where Mary died, but the Church has two traditions: One is that she died in Jerusalem, the other is that she died in Ephesus, where the apostle John is thought to have ministered. John is believed to be the “beloved disciple” to whose care Mary was entrusted by Jesus.
“What we always have to do when we talk about our Blessed Mother is always to connect Mary with Jesus Christ,” Fr. Bruce said. “She points to Jesus.”
The suggested readings for the feast make that connection between Mary and her son. For example, the first reading, from Revelations 11, describes a “great sign in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun” who “was with child” and “gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.”
Similarly, the Gospel reading has Mary’s Magnificat, in which she prefigures Jesus’ teaching about the preferential treatment of the poor.
“Mary is a great missionary herself,” Fr. Bruce said. “Remember, she is the one who declares ‘the greatness of the Lord’ – her great Magnificat. … Down through the ages she’s been a great inspiration to missionaries.”
The Feast of the Assumption is a foretaste of the end of time, when the Holy Spirit will “take away our sinfulness,” and purify and transform earthy bodies into heavenly forms, Fr. Bruce said. He added that, in the words of Paulist founder Fr. Isaac Hecker, “The incarnation continues and will continue until the end of time; we continue to enflesh the Word, and the Assumption is the beautiful image of the glorification of that flesh.”
The Feast of the Assumption is a holy day of obligation. Check your local parish for Mass times.