About the Feast

This summer feast honoring our Lady dates from early in Church history. The Feast of the Assumption is first recorded as celebrated by Christians living in what was known then as Palestine (the region around Jerusalem) in about. 450.

The feast was originally called the Koimesis Theokotou in the Eastern Church and Dormitio Beatae Mariae Virginis in the Roman Church (Falling Asleep of the Mother of God).

With the belief that Mary had "fallen asleep" was also the strong conviction that her body did not decay but in some miraculous way had been "assumed" (carried) into heaven. By the seventh and eighth centuries, the feast was known as the Assumptio Mariae Virginis. This was such a strongly held tradition in the Church that it wasn't thought necessary to define it as part of the Church's teachings for many centuries.

It was on November 1, 1950, that Pope Pius XII defined as a truth revealed by God that the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, was taken up to heaven, body and soul, when the course of her life on earth was finished. (See CCC nos. 966, 974.)

Though the origins of both the feast and of the belief in the Assumption of Mary are unclear, it is quite obvious that there are no relics of Mary to be venerated, nor any history of relics now lost.
How Flowers Regained Their Scent

An ancient and beautiful legend about the Assumption of Mary tells the story this way:

When our Lady felt her time on earth coming to an end, she sent word to all the Apostles. They were out preaching the good news of her Son "to all the comers of the world" as Jesus had commanded them. When they received her message, of course they paid their respects to their new congregations and disciples and left so as to hurry to her side. After long sea voyages and treks over land, they arrived just in time to say goodbye and pray with her one last time. Then she died.

The grieving Apostles took her body to a tomb near the one where Jesus had been laid after His Crucifixion. They covered her with a white shroud and laid her to rest. in the tomb.

Only Thomas was late. He had been delayed in some way or another, and had been traveling day and night since to try to catch up. When he finally arrived, hot and travel-stained, he was grief-stricken to learn that she had been laid to rest in a tomb. He wept bitterly, and begged permission to open the tomb so that he could see her beloved face.

At first, the other Apostles were reluctant. After all, she had been dead for three days, and it was a hot country. Finally they yielded to his tears and rolled away the stone.

To their amazement, the tomb was filled with flowers, all giving off a sweet fragrance. The Apostles felt happier and healthier just smelling the beautiful scent that came wafting out of that tomb. Where they had placed her body was only her shroud, filled with more flowers. Her body had been carried up to heaven by her Son and the angels, to join her soul.

Now, it must be remembered that. after the great Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and were cast out of the Garden, all the flowers lost their scent, or perhaps we lost the ability to smell them. The herbs lost their healing powers, too, and they were good only for flavoring our food. Not that that's not a good thing, mind you, but to be able to heal sickness and mend broken bones—well, that's something more important than a nicely flavored stew.

It was only right that on the day of her Assumption, our Blessed Lady's last gift to us should have been the restoring of the scent of flowers and the healing powers of herbs.

—A legend, but a beautiful thought!

Observing the Feast

"It is surely fitting, it was becoming, that she should be taken up into heaven and not lie in the grave until Christ's second coming, who had passed a life of sanctity and of miracles such as hers. ...She died, then, because even our Lord and Savior died. But though she died as well as others, she died not as others die; for, through the merits of her son, by whom she was what she was, ...which had filled her with light, which had purified her flesh from all defilement, she had been saved from disease and malady, and all that weakens and decays the bodily frame" (John Henry Newman).

In Greece, where the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church exist side by side, the Feast of the Assumption (or Dormition) of Mary is an occasion for family gatherings and celebrations. The two weeks leading up to the feast are spent both fasting and traveling home to the family village in time for the feast. It is a pilgrimage, a going home to family, culture, faith, and country for everyone. On the day of the feast itself, the churches are filled with worshippers bringing animals, food, and other offerings. Some churches hold auctions of the offerings to raise money.

For your family, have a "Greek feast" to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption—barbecued lamb chops, fresh crusty bread, a true Greek salad (which has no lettuce), and the classic Greek pastry, baklava, for dessert.
Recipe: Greek Salad

Ingredients

    3 tomatoes, sliced
    1 large cucumber, sliced (peeled if desired)
    1 medium sweet onion (or 5 green onions), sliced 1 cup black olives, pitted
    3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
    1 medium red pepper, sliced (optional)
    1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
    salt and pepper, to taste
    1/2 cup olive oil
    1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice)

Directions

In a salad bowl, combine the tomato, cucumber, and onion. Add the olives, feta cheese, sliced pepper (option), and basil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; drizzle with olive oil and the vinegar (or lemon juice). Toss. Let sit for about an hour to allow the flavors to mingle. Serve cold or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.
Recipe: Baklava

Ingredients

    4 cups walnuts, finely chopped
    1/2 cup white sugar
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 pound phyllo dough (frozen-food section of grocery stores)
    1 cup butter, melted
    11/2 cups honey, melted
    1/4 cup rosewater or orange flower water (or 1/4 cup water and 1 teaspoon vanilla)

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the chopped nuts with the sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Brush melted butter on the bottom and sides of a 13x9-inch baking dish. Place one sheet of phyllo dough in the baking dish (keep remaining sheets covered with a damp tea towel), allowing it to extend up the sides of the dish. Brush the sheet with melted butter. Repeat to make a layer of 5 sheets of phyllo dough. Sprinkle with 1 cup of walnut. mixture.

Cut remaining phyllo sheets into rectangles about 13x9 inches. Lay one sheet on top of the walnut mixture, and brush with melted butter. Repeat this layering of walnut mixture and phyllo sheets twice more. You will have three layers of walnut mixture. Top with remaining phyllo sheets, brushing each with butter. Trim off edges of phyllo that extend over the edge of the dish.

With a sharp knife, cut just halfway through all layers to make a diamond pattern of about 28 servings. Bake in a 300°F oven for' 1 hour and 25 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Heat honey and rosewater in a saucepan until hot but not boiling. Spoon hot honey evenly over baked baklava. Cool in baking dish at least 1 hour. Cut the rest of the way through diamonds to serve.