Ever since the earliest centuries of the Church, Christians have celebrated Mary’s Assumption. An apocryphal tradition from the East, the feast was established as dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
The feast, which commemorates the assumption of the body of the Virgin, is celebrated in the Holy Land at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The solemnity began with a prayer vigil, the evening of the 14th, in a garden overlooking the Virgin’s tomb. The life of the Virgin was sketched out with readings, leaving room deep meditation. Torches in hand, the congregation made the Ave Maria sound out over sleeping East Jerusalem. The Virgin was then carried in procession to the center of the Basilica of the Nations and incensed. It was a strongly impressive moment for many faithful, such as the young French pilgrim who exclaimed, “I will remember this torchlight procession for the rest of my life. I have never felt such a communion with Middle Eastern Christians. The Ave Maria in Arabic profoundly moved me!”
On the 15th of August, the Custos of the Holy Land presided over the Eucharist in the Basilica of Gethsemane. That mass was celebrated in Arabic and Latin, with a special intention for the persecuted populations of the Middle East. Parish priest of the Jerusalem Latin parish, Fr. Feras Hejazin, preached the homily. He invited the congregation to fix their gaze on two elements. First, on the mystery of assumption of the body of Mary, a mystery that many have tried to explain. Father Feras said, “Why should we be surprised? It is not a question of knowing how or by what means this happened, but of Who made this miracle happen and why.” Returning to Mary’s purity and the constant battle between light and dark that divides our souls, he emphasized that Mary only came to glory on the same path that is open to all of us. Yes, Mary prefigures our destiny. The Word became flesh in her body and from that moment she was impregnated with the Life and Light of God. “Mary was able to accomplish the plan that her Lord made for her.” So, following her example, “let us accept that we, too, are part of God’s plans and let us dare to say ‘yes’, even if God’s plans escape us or seem too grand,” concluded Father Feras.
Everyone was invited to gather again in the Grotto of Betrayal in the afternoon for Vespers. In Jesus’ time the area around the Mount of Olives contained many similar grottos. To the sound of psalms being chanted, the congregation could imagine Jesus surrounded by his disciples at the time of his betrayal by Judas (Jn 18:2). Together, the congregation invoked the Queen of the Holy Land: “We implore you to cast your merciful gaze on this Land […] Disperse the darkness of error so that the sun of justice may shine and that the promise of your Son be fulfilled: forming one flock led by one pastor.”
The solemnity closed with a procession to the crypt in the Church of the Assumption. In this church, built over the tomb that received the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the congregation intoned the Ave Maria of Lourdes and was able to kiss the stone of the tomb. This is a much-awaited moment by the faithful who come here once a year on this day. The reliquary of the glorious assumption of the Virgin Mary is kept today by the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Churches and is regulated by the rules of the Status Quo.
The Custody of the Holy Land wishes to thank everyone for their participation in the various ceremonies. Special thanks are due to the Gethsemane community and their superior, Fra Benito José Choque, for their warm hospitality. Joyful feast of the Assumption! “Assumpta est Maria in caelum, gaudent angeli, laudantes benedicunt Dominum!”