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Worship in August

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As noted on the Forward Movement website: Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2009: The Official Calendar for the Episcopal Church. This calendar for August  has 15 notable commemorations. In just the first week, the commemorations included Joseph of Arimathea, the Transfiguration of our Lord, and John Mason Neale. Following that are Dominic, Laurence, Clare, Jeremy Taylor, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, and St. Mary the Virgin. The rest of the month has William Porcher DuBose, Bernard, Louis, Thomas Gallaudet with Henry Winter Syle, Augustine of Hippo, and Aidan.

St. Mary the Virgin on August 15th is one of the great Marian Feasts.  The Eastern Orthodox call it the Feast of the Dormition while Roman Catholics call it the Feast of the Assumption. They deal with the same event but the interpretation is a bit different. Fr. Patrick Comerford, an Anglican Priest in the Church of Ireland, offers the following distinction:

The Orthodox Church teaches that Mary died a natural death, like any human being; that her soul was received by Christ upon death; and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her burial, at which time she was taken up, bodily only, into heaven, so that her tomb was found empty on the third day.

On the other hand, Roman Catholic teaching says Mary was “assumed” into heaven in bodily form. Some Roman Catholics agree with the Orthodox that this happened after her death, while others hold that she did not experience death. In his dogmatic definition of the Assumption in Munificentissimus Deus (1950), Pope Pius XII was not so dogmatic, for he appears to leave open the question of whether or not she actually underwent death and even alludes to the fact of her death at least five times.”

So what about the Episcopal Church? We too celebrate this day but, in typical Anglican fashion, do not try to explain too much. This is clear from the introduction of the collect for this day: “O God you have taken to yourself the blessed virgin Mary mother of your incarnate Son.” Was it dormition or assumption? We do not know. What we do know is that God took the Blessed Mother to himself.

The Episcopal Church website notes: The belief that the Mother of Jesus was taken up body and soul into heaven. Though not in scripture, it was described in apocryphal stories of the fifth century. It originated in the lack of scriptural data on Mary's death. It found support in the absence of bodily relics of the Virgin, in meditation on Jesus' filial love, and in a liturgical feast which dates from the fifth century. This feast was known as Memory of Mary in the fifth century and was celebrated as the Dormition in the sixth century on Aug. 15. In the seventh century it was called the Assumption in the west. It was universally accepted by piety in Byzantium. It became a theological opinion in western theology. As the belief spread it was featured in iconography and gothic sculpture (as at Canterbury Cathedral). Though accepted by most Reformers, the feast was not included in the BCP. The belief was eventually abandoned in the churches of the Reformation. It was preserved in Orthodoxy and by some Anglicans as a pious belief. It became a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in 1950.

On the Feast this year of St. Mary the Virgin, or if you prefer, the Feast of the Assumption, Church of the Ascension on LaSalle Street  will have a Solemn High Mass at 7:00 pm. Fr. Jim Dunkerley will be the preacher, and our interim rector,  Fr. Daniel Dice will be Deacon of the Mass. All are invited to attend what will be a glorious occasion.