15th August is a traditionally important day for the Catholic Church and the Holy Land: it is the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.
In Jerusalem the solemnity started with the prayer vigil on its eve, 14th August, in the garden facing the entrance to the Basilica of Gethsemane, in what is traditionally acknowledged as the area with the tomb of Virgin Mary. The prayer vigil was focused on the great model of life that the Blessed Virgin Mary was, starting from the narratives we find in the Gospels. The readings chosen for meditation were the parts that best relate the passage of the Blessed Virgin on this earth and how she watched over Jesus and accompanied him in his life. The countless faithful present, guided by the Franciscan friars and by various religious who lent their voices for the readings of the episodes from the Gospels, celebrated the life of Mary from the Announcement by the Archangel Gabriel, through the birth of Jesus, the flight to Egypt and the return to the land of Israel.
The second part was dedicated to the passing of Mary, according to the Roman treatise on the passing of Mary (Cod. Vatic. gr. 1982, ff. 181-189V). In this second part, the readings were those of the Dormition in the Kidron Valley, as told in the apocryphal story, and the burial at Gethsemane, which was read in the Basilica of the Nations, where the Marian torchlight procession came to an end.
““The Almighty has done great things for me,” sings Mary in the house of Elizabeth. And actually, this refrain runs through the whole of Mary’s existence,” the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, who presided the morning Celebration on 15th August, said during the homily. “When we sing with Mary, “The Almighty has done great things for me, ”we have to do so considering that God has done and still wants to do great things for us,” Fr. Patton recalled. The Custos underlined that trying to be like Mary means docilely accepting the will of God, because – like Jesus himself – “whoever does the will of my Father is for me a brother, sister and mother.” The morning Eucharistic celebration ended with a new procession around the Garden of Gethsemane, which was followed by the prayer and solemn blessing.
In the afternoon, the second vespers presided by the Custos were celebrated at the Grotto of the Apostles, followed immediately by the peregrination to Mary’s Tomb. This site is the property of the Greek Orthodox but, as for various other places, according to the Status Quo it can be visited officially once a year, on the related special day.
“Today more than ever,” stated Fr. Benito José Choque, guardian of the Convent of the Agony in Gethsemane thanking the pilgrims and the local faithful who came for the celebration, “we have to look at Mary as our Mother, today more than ever we have to feel her as such.”