The Festival of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail of a stained glass window depicting the Assumption of Mary; Henri Curcier, date unknown; Church of Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption, Lanquais, Dordogne, France; photographed on 8 March 2015 by Père Igor; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThe festival of the Assumption, or, as our ancestors called it, “Lady Day in Harvest,” is without doubt the first and greatest of all the feast days of the Blessed Virgin. It is one of great antiquity. Many learned writers hold the opinion that it was solemnized away back in the days of the apostles, though there are some who dispute this opinion. Only very recently, in the year 1858, there was discovered in the ancient subterranean chapel of Saint Clement, in Rome, an old picture dating from the age of Pope Leo IV. and representing the Assumption, thus showing that in the ninth century, at least, the belief in this glorious privilege of Mary was held by the faithful of the Church. Devotion to the Assumption, and observance of the festival itself, received a strong impetus in the Church immediately after the Council of Ephesus, which was held in the year 431.

At this Council Mary was declared by the solemn voice of the Church to be really and truly the Mother of God, and from that time forward the love and veneration for our blessed Lady were widely diffused and vastly augmented. This festival was introduced into Rome by Pope Damasus,who occupied the chair of Peter from 366 to 384. Again, Pope Sergius, who governed the Church be tween the years 687 and 701, decreed that, on this festival, a procession in honor of Mary should take place from the Church of Saint Adrian. Hence the feast itself must have been known before that time. It was always preceded by a vigil and a strict fast, as was then the custom in regard to all the great festivals of the Church, such as Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. An octave was added later by Pope Leo IV, during whose pontificate there appeared in Rome, near the Church of Saint Lucy, a dragon, or basilisk, which poisoned every passer-by by its mere look. All who came near this beast met certain and sudden death. The Pope, after fortifying himself by prayer and fasting, went in solemn procession, on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, to the dreaded place and approaching the entrance to the animal’s den, prayed fervently to Heaven, in union with all the people, for deliverance from this frightful plague. His prayer was heard, the beast disappeared, and from that time forward all could pass the place in safety. It was in thanksgiving for this miracle that the octave of eight days was added to the festival. In England, Alfred the Great ordered the mystery to be commemorated annually, during a whole week, during which time no work was to be required from the working people. In Germany the so-called “Blessing of Craps” takes place. This custom took its rise from an old superstitious practice of the pagans. At a certain fixed hour of the night, and amid strange and weird ceremonies, they used to gather different kinds of vegetables and roots, and then use them for wicked purposes. In order to abolish these pagan superstitions, the bishops introduced the annual Christian ceremony of invoking the blessing of God on the fruits of the earth during harvest-time. The people assembled in their Catholic temples, each one carrying some kind of vegetable or plant from his farm, and the priests then called upon the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost to send down, through the intercession of our blessed Lady, a blessing on all the crops of the season. Then all together prayed “that all who should partake of these fruits of the earth might receive profit to soul and body, and, by virtue of Mary’s intercession, might be enabled to bring forth such spiritual fruits of sanctity that they might be found worthy to approach the gates of heaven, surrounded by the sweet fragrance of their virtues.” The people then carried these blessed plants to their homes where they so placed them that they might serve as reminders that all good works and all happy results are to be ascribed to the power of God and the prayers of His Church.

The beautiful practice of blessing, on this festival, flowers and plants and fruits, has also another important meaning. Mary is the chosen flower that bloomed from David’s stock, and she it is who yielded to us that most precious of heavenly fruits. Jesus Christ Himself, Our Saviour. In the epistle read in the Mass of “Lady Day in Harvest,” our blessed Mother, on account of her “fullness of grace,” of her beauty and majesty, of her sweet and fragrant virtues, is likened to the stately cedars of Libanus, to the fair cypress tree of Hamon, to the comely olive tree, to the blushing rose, to the healing balsam, and to the savory cinnamon tree. Tradition in- forms us that the apostles found in her grave fresh roses and other sweet flowers, after she had left this earth to be assumed into heaven. Justly, then, does the Church choose this day for the blessing of the products of the earth, and as the festival of fruits and flowers.

Prayer of Holy Church

Forgive, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the offences of Thy servants, that we, who of ourselves cannot please Thee, may be saved by the intercession of the Mother of Thy Son, Our Lord.

May the prayer of the Mother of God come to the aid of Thy people, O Lord, that we may experience her intercession for us in heavenly glory, whom we know to have passed out of this life to satisfy the condition of our mortality.

We who have been made partakers of the heavenly Table, implore Thy mercy, O Lord, Our God, that we, who celebrate the Assumption of the Mother of God, may, by her intercession, be delivered from all impending evils.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898