From the very first centuries of Christianity, the tomb of the Virgin Mary has been recognized by tradition and devotion as the place where the Mother of Jesus was taken into heaven. In the fifth century, the bishop of Jerusalem Juvenal located this tomb at the foot of Mount Olive, in the Kidron Valley. It is in this same place,every 15 August, that the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption to Heaven of the Virgin Mary, body and soul.
The celebrations started in the night between 14 and 15 August in the Garden of Gethsemane, for the vigil of the eve of the solemnity, when the readings went back over the life and the death of Mary; on the morning of 15 August, on the other hand, the solemn mass, dedicated entirely to the Assumption, was held at the Basilica of the Nations. Lastly, on the afternoon ofthe 15th, the second vespers were recited at the neighbouring “grotto of the Apostles"and a stop was made at Mary’s tomb for the veneration of the holy place. Here the Franciscans were welcomed by representatives of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities, as established by the Status Quo which regulates the life of the most important Holy Places. All three liturgical moments were presided by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton.
During the vigil which preceded the solemnity, the Father Custos invited the faithful to ask themselves how, in the same way as Mary, the will of God can be accepted in the concrete events of life. Immediately afterwards, he clarified how generally, to speak of the death of the Mother of Jesus, two words that are particularly significant for Christian spirituality are used, namely “dormition” and “transit”. In this regard, Fr. Francesco stressed how, in the Christin perspective, dying must be understood as falling asleep, while the “transit” alludes specifically to passage. To the Paschal passage. On this horizon, the tomb will only be a temporary location, “because the destination of this passage is the full participation of the whole person in the very life of God.”
The importance of this solemnity, moreover, lies on the fact that the Tomb of Mary, like the one of her son Jesus, is empty. The empty tomb evokes the Risen One, "the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15, 20)andrecalls the origin of our hope. Looking inside the tomb allows us to feel consoled and to live in the amazement of observing that “death was not able to keep Mary more than three days, just as it had not been able to keep her Son, Jesus." In his comment on the Gospel, at the solemn mass, the Father Custos insisted on the connection between the resurrection of Christ and the assumption of Mary to Heaven: "When we contemplate the Blessed Virgin Mary taken to heaven, body and soul, we contemplate the fact that Jesus Risen wanted his mother to be the first to take part in the grace of the resurrection, to be the first to enter the glory of God with all her body and soul.
This Marian solemnity thus reminds us of the value of all our person, not only of the spiritual component which we call the soul, but also the material and concrete part of ourselves which we call the body. Indeed, this feat-day reveals to us in a special way the values of our body which is made to take part in the glory of divine life."
At the end of the Mass, the friars, followed by the faithful, went around the neighbouring Garden of Gethsemane three times, carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary in a procession.
In the afternoon, at the vespers celebrated in the grotto of the Apostles, the Franciscans intoned the Magnificat. Taking some words from this song, Fr. Francesco emphasized how the solemnity of the Assumption presents to us the paradoxical way God acts in the story: "God raises the humble! God does not raise the haughty and the proud, he does not raise those who are full of themselves. He does not raise the arrogant and those who assert themselves through force […], God raises the humble. And he does so only if “we have the courage to go against the trend with respect to the mentality of the world." Just as Mary did.
The celebrations came to an end with the traditional procession to the nearby tomb of Mary.
Filippo De Grazia