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Assumption of Mary

The Assumption of Mary commemorates the taking up—or assumption—of the Virgin Mary's body into heaven after the end of her earthly life. It follows the belief that Mary's body didn't go through a decay process but instead went straight to heaven. It is observed by Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches; most Protestant churches do not observe it. Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches celebrate the day as the Dormition of the Mother of God (Dormition of the Theotokos), which can be translated to "the falling asleep of the Mother of God." Observants of the Dormition of the Mother of God believe that Mary's body died a physical death but was then raised like her son was, and was then taken to heaven.

Some writings that date back to the third or fourth century refer to the Assumption of Mary, and by the fifth century, the day was being widely celebrated. In the East, Emperor Maurice established it around 600 CE. In the West, it was celebrated by Pope Sergius in the late seventh or early eighth century, and it was made an official feast by Pope Leo IV in the ninth century. Theological debates over the Assumption took place during the decades that followed.

It wasn't until 1950 that the holiday became part of the dogma of the Catholic Church. The dogmatic definition says that Mary was assumed to heaven after "having completed the course of her earthly life." This doesn't answer the question as to if Mary first died or not, and the topic is still debated by Catholics today. For those who ascribe to the belief that Mary died before being assumed, there are a few stories as to where she died. One account says she died in Ephesus in the House of the Virgin Mary, while an earlier story says that she died in Jerusalem.

The Assumption of Mary is celebrated as a major feast day and is a day of promise to Christians that they too will enter heaven. Religious festivals are held on the day, as are parades, processions, and fireworks displays. It is a public holiday in some countries. In many countries that are predominantly Catholic, it is a holy day of obligation, meaning Mass is to be attended.

How to Observe

You could celebrate the day by attending a feast or festival, which may have food, fireworks, and dancing. The largest festivals devoted to the day are held around the world, but some cities in the United States have public festivals as well. For example, Cleveland holds a large festival each year. You could also attend an Assumption of Mary parade. If you are Catholic, you could mark the day by attending Mass.

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