SUNDAY, AUGUST 15: A single feast honors two perspectives of the same event today, when both Eastern Christians and Roman Catholics observe the passing of the Virgin Mary (Theotokos). This event holds such esteem that many believe that Christ’s second appearance on earth was solely in order to take his mother’s soul to heaven – and, according to most Catholics, therefore fulfilling His earlier promise to “go and prepare a place for you.” Most Roman Catholics believe that Mary was “assumed” into heaven in bodily form and, some believe, never experienced death (read more at Wikipedia); Eastern Christians hold that the Theotokos (Mother of God) died a natural death and was resurrected bodily on the third day, similar to Jesus (details are at Wikipedia). Either way, both Churches believe that Mary was taken in full body form into heaven.
Orthodox Christians have been fasting for two weeks in the Dormition Fast to prepare for today’s feast. Perhaps surprisingly, the Dormition Fast is stricter than the Nativity Fast (prior to Christmas)!(The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has more.) By word of Christ himself, though, many Christians believe that Jesus wished for all to hold his mother in high honor. While on the cross, Jesus declared to John, “Behold your mother!” and to Mary, “Woman, behold your son!” Thus after Jesus’ death, Mary lived with and was cared for by John, while both continued to promote the Church. Orthodox icons depict the Apostles surrounding Mary at the time of her death, too, and St. Paul bowed low to honor her. Many continue to honor Mary by observing today as a public holiday.
Unfortunately, the lines that divide Eastern Christian and Roman Catholic interpretation of this event may be deepened in coming years: the Catholic Church is contemplating a Fifth Marian Dogma, one that would proclaim Mary as a Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate. In a technical sense the title “Co-Redemptrix” wouldn’t elevate Mary as an equal to Christ, (Catholic doctrine declares Christ to be above all else — Mary would be “Co-Redemptrix in the sense that as Christ’s Mother she was an integral part of his saving acts) but the titles still leave many feeling troubled.
A Marian Symposium was held March 25 in Rome – a discussion that brought additional light to the possibility of this additional dogma. (Watch clips from the symposium here.) Support for the dogma is growing, as a movement known as Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici is spreading awareness and collecting millions of signatures. It also has declared this year – starting today – to be a Rosary Crusade for the Fifth Marian Dogma, during which supporters will pray the rosary frequently in dedication to this cause. Supporters believe that Mary is needed during these times of trouble, but opposers argue that this new dogma will only further divide Eastern Christians and Catholics – and possibly even other Western Christian denominations.
What do you think?
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)