Celebrated every year on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary commemorates the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven, before her body could begin to decay—a foretaste of our own bodily resurrection at the end of time. Because it signifies the Blessed Virgin’s passing into eternal life, it is the most important of all Marian feasts as well as being a Holy Day of Obligation.
- Date: August 15
- Type of Feast: Solemnity, Holy Day of Obligation.
- Readings: Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab; Psalm 45:10, 11, 12, 16; 1 Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56
- Prayers: The Hail Mary
- Other Names for the Feast: The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Assumption of Mary Into Heaven; the Dormition of the Theotokos; the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary
History of the Assumption
The Feast of the Assumption is one of the oldest holy days in the Church, with accounts of celebrations going back to the sixth century. Christians in the East, both Catholic and Orthodox refer to it as the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, or “the falling asleep of the Mother of God.” The earliest printed reference to the belief that Mary’s body was assumed into Heaven dates from the fourth century, in a document entitled “The Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God.” The document is written in the voice of the Apostle John, to whom Christ on the Cross had entrusted the care of His mother, and it recounts the death, laying in the tomb, and assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Tradition variously places Mary’s death at Jerusalem or at Ephesus, where John was living.
An Official Belief
On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII, exercising papal infallibility, declared in an Apostolic constitution known as the Munificentissimus Deus that it is a dogma of the Church “that 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.” As a dogma, the Assumption is a required belief of all Catholics. Anyone who publicly dissents from the dogma, Pope Pius declared, “has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.” While members of the Eastern Orthodox church believe in the Dormition, they object to the papal definition of the dogma, seeing it as unnecessary, since belief in Mary’s bodily assumption, tradition holds, goes back to apostolic times.