Between heaven and earth: the Assumption of Mary in glory speaks to every man of his life’s destiny

Monday, 15th August

It was no surprise to see, on the morning of 15th August, so many people at the Basilica of Gethsemane, also known as the Basilica of the Agony, for the Solemn Mass celebrated on the feast day, in the Catholic liturgy, of the Assumption to heaven of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The genuine and deep emotion and participation could be seen on the faces of the many religious, local Arabic-speaking Christians, the lively community of volunteers and pilgrims from all over the world. In the basilica, which the Franciscans had wished and had been built by the architect Antonio Barluzzi in the early 20th century on the ruins of an ancient Byzantine church, a real spirit of joy and hope, which is so rare in this place which recalls the extreme suffering of Jesus in the Olive Grove, at the start of His passion, could be felt.

The Holy Mass was presided by the Father Custos, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and many members of the Franciscan community of the Holy Land gathered with him at the great altar of the church, around the rock of the agony of Jesus which is right in front of the altar. One of the concelebrating priests, Brother Simone Herro, delivered the homily in Arabic.

After Communion, making the brief moments of personal prayer and meditation even more intense, there was the moving performance of Schubert’s Ave Maria, elegantly played by the musician from London Stella Turner, on the transverse flute, accompanied at the organ by Brother Armand Pierucci, Director of the Magnificat Institute, the Custody’s school of music in Jerusalem.
At the end of the celebration, a serene convivial moment and simple refreshments, offered by the Franciscan community of Gethsemane, completed the joyous encounter.

In the afternoon, a new appointment brought together the faithful, again very numerous, first in the Grotto of the Arrest, where the Custos presided Solemn Vespers. This was followed immediately by the procession to the Church of Mary’s Tomb, which is very near the Grotto, at the back of a courtyard protected by high walls and which after having been owned by the Franciscans until the middle of the 18th century, is now the joint property of the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians. The procession went down the long flight of steps leading to the crypt, where there is the rock on which the body of the Virgin Mary was laid at the end of her earthly life and today an important destination of pilgrimage for Christians. The liturgy that accompanied this last part of the celebrations also included, in addition to the recital of Marian litanies and chants, the reading of an apocryphal account of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

The Mount of Olives, with its splendid view over the Kidron Valley, was the grandiose backdrop for one of the feast-days dearest to the hearts of all Christians. According to a very ancient tradition, which dates back to the first centuries of the life of the Church, it was here that the Assumption of Mary took place, more recently proclaimed by the Catholic Church as a dogma of the faith, through the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus of 1950. On the same day, 15th August, the Orthodox and the Armenians also celebrate the feast of the Dormition of Mary, according to the belief that the Virgin Mary, at the end of her existence did not really die but fell into a deep sleep, before her assumption to heaven.

We all contemplate this very great mystery which, in this “land of waiting” is even more present: Mary is the human creature who was the first to realize the eschatological ideal, enveloped for always, with her whole self and being – body and soul – by the Being of God, living essentially on His mercy and His perfect charity which is the dynamic expression of truth, a permanent opening to relations and communion. Mary assumed to heaven expresses the deep sense of vital belonging and adhesion to God, who remains in perennial contact with what is eternal and with her person, she participates in the inexhaustible relationship of love with God.

According to the Jewish tradition based on the words of the prophet Joel (Joel 4,22 ff) and which was then adopted, with particular nuances, by the Christians and Muslims, this valley, also called the Valley of Josaphat and where today there are large cemeteries of the three Abrahamic religions, will be where the Last Judgement take place. Mary, Mother of all peoples, is the immense hope of a destiny of perfect happiness, of sharing in the divine existence of the election of all limited, finite and dependent creatures to the extreme dignity and accomplishment of life, to which they aspire from now on with their orientation to taking part in the permanent Love that is God and that summarizes in Him everything that is essential.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Giovanni Zennaro and Luis Garcia

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