Assumption, Dormition of Mary: Christians pay tribute to the Blessed Virgin, Theotokos

Icon of the Dormition by El Greco, 16th century (Cathedral of the Dormition, Ermoupolis).

Virgin Mary Assumption

An image of the Assumption of Mary, portrayed in a window in the Church of St Aloysius in Somers Town, London. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flikr

SUNDAY, AUGUST 15: It’s been 70 years since Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith, and today, Catholics are part of the observance that both branches of Christianity—West and East—acknowledge, in an event that is known as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary / the Dormition of the Theotokos. Two names for the same event, both the Assumption and the Dormition proclaim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven in body and soul.

NEWS 2021: In what is being called a “cultural revival,” the Virgin Mary is rapidly becoming a type of icon for a younger global generation, as clothing, hats and more, all featuring images of the Virgin Mary, become increasingly more popular. Seen by some as a figure for values like social justice, the Virgin Mary is being called a “relatable” figure of faith. While the iconic popularity is controversial, Catholic author and University of California, Berkeley lecturer Kaya Oakes, in an article at Broadview.org, voiced no surprise at the new attention paid to Mary: “Mary represents this side of God that is nurturing and will stay with you when you’re in pain,” Oakes said. “We’re coming out of this really traumatic phase in world history with the pandemic, and people have needed images of God that were more resonant with that compassionate, rather than judgmental, side of the divine.”

MARY THROUGH THE MILLENNIA

While no evidence of Mary’s Assumption exists in scripture, the belief has been engrained in both branches of Christianity for centuries. The Church points to passages in Revelations, Genesis and Corinthians, to mention of a woman “caught between good and evil” and to those “fallen asleep” after Christ’s resurrection. Theologians and Christians have pointed out that a woman so close to Jesus during his earthly life would have naturally been assumed into Heaven, to be with him there.

Apocryphal accounts of the Assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since the 4th century, and teachings of the Assumption have been widespread since the 5th century. Theological debate continued in the centuries following, and though most Catholic Christians had held belief in the Assumption for quite some time, it wasn’t until 70 years ago—on November 1, 1950—that Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith.

EAST AND WEST: THE DORMITION VS. THE ASSUMPTION

In the East: Eastern Christians believe that the Virgin Mary died a natural death, and that her soul was received by Christ upon death. Three days following, Mary’s body was resurrected, and she was taken up into heaven, bodily.

In the West: The Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary, “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” Within Protestantism, views often differ. 

A HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY

To many Christians, Eastern and Western, the Assumption is also the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday. Mary’s acceptance into the glory of Heaven is viewed as the symbol of Christ’s promise that all devoted Christians will be received into Heaven, too. The feast of the Assumption is a public holiday in many countries, from Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to Italy, Romania and Spain. The day doubles as Mother’s Day in Costa Rica and parts of Belgium.

No details specify the day or year of Mary’s Assumption, though it is believed that when Mary died, the Apostles flocked to her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ descended, and carried her soul to Heaven.

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Assumption of Mary, Dormition of Theotokos: Christians celebrate Jesus’s mother

Statue in front of pillars and below stained glass dome in church

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Chartres Cathedral, France. Photo by Joe deSousa, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 15: The Eastern Orthodox Dormition Fast (begun Aug. 1) has ended, and Christians bow their heads, today, for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Dormition of the Theotokos. Two names for the same event, both the Assumption and the Dormition proclaim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven in body and soul. Whether or not Mary died before being assumed does vary by tradition—for Catholic Christians, the question remains open, while for Orthodox Christians, firm belief holds that she did, in fact, die a mortal death.

No evidence of Mary’s Assumption exists in scripture, yet the belief has been engrained in both branches of Christianity for centuries. With no scriptural evidence, the Church points, instead, to passages in Revelations, Genesis and Corinthians, to mention of a woman “caught between good and evil” and to those fallen asleep after Christ’s resurrection. Theologians and Christians have pointed out that a woman so close to Jesus during his earthly life would have naturally been assumed into Heaven, to be with him there.

MARY THROUGH THE CENTURIES

Apocryphal accounts of the Assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since the 4th century, and teachings of the Assumption have been widespread since the 5th century. Theological debate continued in the centuries following, and though most Catholic Christians had held belief in the Assumption for quite some time, it wasn’t until 63 years ago—on November 1, 1950—that Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith.

EAST AND WEST: THE DORMITION VS. THE ASSUMPTION

In the East: Eastern Christians believe that the Virgin Mary died a natural death, and that her soul was received by Christ upon death. Three days following, Mary’s body was resurrected, and she was taken up into heaven, bodily. (Learn more from the Orthodox Church in America.)

In the West: Catholics are divided in thought as to whether or not Mary died, bodily, as this theory has not been dogmatically defined either way. (Global Catholic Network has more.)

A HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY

To many Christians, Eastern and Western, the Assumption is also the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday. Mary’s acceptance into the glory of Heaven is viewed as the symbol of Christ’s promise that all devoted Christians will be received into Heaven, too. The feast of the Assumption is a public holiday in many countries, from Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to Italy, Romania and Spain. The day doubles as Mother’s Day in Costa Rica and parts of Belgium.

No details suggest the day or year of Mary’s Assumption, though it is believed that when Mary died, the Apostles flocked to her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ descended, and carried her soul to Heaven.

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Assumption of Mary, Dormition of Theotokos: Christians honor Virgin Mary

Painting Mary falling asleep

A depiction of the “falling asleep” of Mary. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15: The Eastern Orthodox Dormition Fast has ended, and both Eastern and Western Christians bow their heads, today, for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary / Dormition of the Theotokos. Two names for the same event, both the Assumption and the Dormition proclaim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven in body and soul. Whether or not Mary died before being assumed does vary by tradition, though—for Catholic Christians, the question remains open, while for Orthodox Christians, firm belief holds that she did, in fact, die a mortal death.

Did you know? In 588 CE, the Emperor Maurice officially adopted the commemoration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin) into the liturgical calendar of the Byzantine Empire.

No evidence of Mary’s Assumption exists in scripture, yet the belief has been engrained in both branches of Christianity for centuries. With no scriptural evidence, the Church points, instead, to passages in Revelations, Genesis and Corinthians, to mention of a woman “caught between good and evil” and to those fallen asleep after Christ’s resurrection. Theologians and Christians have pointed out that a woman so close to Jesus during his earthly life would have naturally been assumed into Heaven, to be with him there.

To many Christians, Eastern and Western, the Assumption is also the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday. Mary’s acceptance into the glory of Heaven is viewed as the symbol of Christ’s promise that all devoted Christians will be received into Heaven, too. The feast of the Assumption is a public holiday in many countries, from Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to Italy, Romania and Spain. The day doubles as Mother’s Day in Costa Rica and parts of Belgium.

THE ASSUMPTION: FROM THE 4TH CENTURY TO 1950 A.D.

Apocryphal accounts of the Assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since the 4th century, and teachings of the Assumption have been widespread since the 5th century. Theological debate continued in the centuries following, and though most Catholic Christians had held belief in the Assumption for quite some time, it wasn’t until 63 years ago—on November 1, 1950—that Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith.

IN THE NEWS: A 2017 INTERFAITH (CONTEST) OPPORTUNITY

The Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has announced a contest, open to individuals of all faith traditions, for submission of a video, photo or thesis that best captures the Orthodox Church’s commitment to interfaith cooperation and dialogue. Three winners will each be awarded $500, in the categories of “Original video,” “Original photography” and “M.A. thesis.” Submissions must be turned in by September 21, 2017. (Find more details here.)

Assumption of the Virgin & Dormition of the Theotokos: A Christian feast for Mary

Painting of tiers of heaven, Jesus and Mary at top, apostles below looking at Mary's empty casket

Francesco Botticini’s The Ascension of the Virgin, 1475-1476 CE. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, AUGUST 15:  Orthodox Christians have been fasting in preparation for the past two weeks; for Western Christians, today’s solemnity emphasizes an infallible dogma: for the billions of Christians worldwide, today is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (or, the Dormition of the Theotokos).

Shared historically by Eastern and Western branches of Christianity is the belief that the Virgin Mary was bodily taken into Heaven at the end of her life on earth. As her son ascended to Heaven after his earthly death, so Mary was assumed into Heaven following her “falling asleep.” Starting August 1, Orthodox Christians began the strict Dormition Fast, in honor of today’s feast; in Eastern Christianity, Mary is often referred to as the Theotokos, or “God-bearer.” Both Eastern and Western Christians popularly observe today’s feast as Mary’s heavenly birthday, while religious parades and festivals celebrate the day. (Wikipedia has details.) In Costa Rica and parts of Belgium, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is combined with Mother’s Day.

AN ANCIENT STORY

Apocryphal accounts of the assumption of Mary into Heaven have circulated since the 4th century CE, and although the Catholic Church interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to this event, there is no specific Scriptural account. Tradition points to Jerusalem as the most likely place of Mary’s death, though at no time in history has Christendom venerated a tomb of the Virgin Mary. In addition, no relic of Mary has ever been found or claimed.

In Catholicism: The Assumption of Mary was widespread belief in Christianity for centuries before being dogmatically defined for Catholicism by Pope Pius XII, in November of 1950. In Pope Pius XII’s Munifecentissiumus Deus, it was declared that the Assumption of Mary was dogma; still, the question of whether or not Mary had died before her Assumption was left unanswered. In Catholicism, either belief—that Mary died before her Assumption, or that she did not—is acceptable. (Get a Catholic perspective from Catholic Culture and Global Catholic Network.)

Did you know? In 588 CE, the Emperor Maurice officially adopted the commemoration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin) into the liturgical calendar of the Byzantine Empire.

In Orthodox Christianity: Eastern Christians believe that Mary died a natural death, and that afterward, Christ received her soul. On the third day after death, Mary’s body was resurrected. In Orthodox tradition, the Dormition of Mary is not defined in dogma, but rather liturgically and mystically. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.) In some churches, the service of the “Burial of the Theotokos” is celebrated during an All-Night Vigil.

Interested in prayers, devotions and family-centered activities for today’s feast? Find related items at Women for Faith and Family.

Christian: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dormition of the Theotokos

Painting of woman in sky, crowd of people beneath her

The Assumption of the Virgin, a painting by Peter Paul Rubens. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 15: The Eastern Orthodox Dormition Fast has ended, and Christians bow their heads, today, for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Dormition of the Theotokos. Two names for the same event, both the Assumption and the Dormition proclaim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven in body and soul. Whether or not Mary died before being assumed does vary by tradition—for Catholic Christians, the question remains open, while for Orthodox Christians, firm belief holds that she did, in fact, die a mortal death.

No evidence of Mary’s Assumption exists in scripture, yet the belief has been engrained in both branches of Christianity for centuries. With no scriptural evidence, the Church points, instead, to passages in Revelations, Genesis and Corinthians, to mention of a woman “caught between good and evil” and to those fallen asleep after Christ’s resurrection. Theologians and Christians have pointed out that a woman so close to Jesus during his earthly life would have naturally been assumed into Heaven, to be with him there.

THE ASSUMPTION: THROUGH THE CENTURIES

Apocryphal accounts of the Assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since the 4th century, and teachings of the Assumption have been widespread since the 5th century. (Wikipedia has details.) Theological debate continued in the centuries following, and though most Catholic Christians had held belief in the Assumption for quite some time, it wasn’t until 63 years ago—on November 1, 1950—that Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith.

EAST AND WEST: THE DORMITION VS. THE ASSUMPTION

In the East: Eastern Christians believe that the Virgin Mary died a natural death, and that her soul was received by Christ upon death. Three days following, Mary’s body was resurrected, and she was taken up into heaven, bodily. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Orthodox Church in America.)

In the West: Catholics are divided in thought as to whether or not Mary died, bodily, as this theory has not been dogmatically defined either way. (Global Catholic Network has more.)

To many Christians, Eastern and Western, the Assumption is also the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday. Mary’s acceptance into the glory of Heaven is viewed as the symbol of Christ’s promise that all devoted Christians will be received into Heaven, too. The feast of the Assumption is a public holiday in many countries, from Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to Italy, Romania and Spain. The day doubles as Mother’s Day in Costa Rica and parts of Belgium.

No details suggest the day or year of Mary’s Assumption, though it is believed that when Mary died, the Apostles flocked to her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ descended, and carried her soul to Heaven.