August 15: The Assumption of Mary

"The Assumption of the Virgin," Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1670
“The Assumption of the Virgin,” Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1670

Curiosity and wonder:

This is one of the feast days in the Christian calendar that it’s worth knowing about, but not – in my opinion – being dogmatic about.

There is a belief, based on tradition and shared by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, that Mary was taken up into heaven like Enoch and Elijah, rather than dying as most of us do. Protestant believers generally do not embrace this teaching because it is not explicitly stated in scripture and because they do not wish to fall into a wrongfully devout attitude towards Mary. This is perhaps why the Book of Common Prayer, which comes to us out of the Reformation period, refers to this feast day as “The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary” and not “The Assumption.”

Nevertheless, the account of tradition is fascinating, even if we do not believe that this is how Mary went to be with her Lord. It reminds us that we do have some curious and wonderful accounts in scripture of other saints who were taken up into heaven in this way.

A gift from the 16th century

One of the most beautiful choral pieces that I know of is dedicated to this feast. It is called “Assumpta est Maria,” and was written by the 16th century Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. You can listen to it below, sung by the amazing Tallis Scholars. The words are in Latin, but the translation of what they are singing is also included below.

One last note before you turn your attention to the choral piece. If you feel uncomfortable celebrating Mary’s role in the Christian story as understood by the writer of this piece, keep in mind that scripture tells us that “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12). All believers can rejoice in the hope of heaven, for ourselves, and for all the saints of the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, Mary included.

Assumpta est Maria in coelum:
gaudent angeli, collaudantes benedicunt Dominum, alleluia.
Maria virgo assumpta est ad aethereum thalamum,
in quo Rex regum stellato sedet solio.
Gaudete et exsultate omnes recti corde.
Quia hodie Maria virgo cum Christo regnat in aeternum.

Mary is taken up into heaven,
the Angels rejoice, praising, they bless God. Alleluia.
Mary the Virgin is taken up into the heavenly chamber,
in which the King of kings sits upon His starry throne.
Let all rejoice and be glad with righteous heart,

for today the Virgin Mary reigns with Christ for evermore.

“Tallis Scholars Sing Palestrina” CD

August 15: The Assumption of Mary