On August 15, the Catholic Church celebrates the great Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. It is one of only six holy days of the Catholic Church in America. The Assumption of Mary (or the Assumption of the Virgin) is a doctrine which teaches that after the mother of Jesus died, her glorified body was taken to heaven. The word assumption is taken from a Latin word meaning “to take up.” This is not to be confused with the Feast of the Ascension (also a holy day) in which Christ rose to heaven on His own power. The Assumption of Mary was made an official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church on November 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII: “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.” When the pope declared this in 1950, it was already a fairly widely established belief among both ordained and lay Catholics.

Think about these facts the next time you pray the Magnificat, Mary’s own words. God certainly has done marvels for the mother of Jesus, and she leads others to recognize God’s holiness. She is the lowly handmaid who deeply reverenced her God and has been raised to the heights. From her position of strength she will help all who call out to her – the lowly and the poor, and she makes clear to the rich and powerful that they should distrust wealth and power as a source of happiness, and trust instead in God.

In most of America, due to the strict adherence to the separation of church and state, holy day celebrations are not as large as they tend to be in other countries. One of the largest Assumption Day celebrations is in Cleveland, Ohio, where there is a four-day festival that starts on August 12. The festival celebrates the Feast of Assumption in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood.

We only need to travel to our neighboring town of Netcong to find a celebration of the Assumption. Colorful processions through the streets and firework displays mark the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption as is done in Italy. A statue of the Virgin Mary is carried through the town to a ceremonial grotto. This year, the celebration will be on August 12. It will include a Parade during the day, and night fireworks celebration.

Assumption Day is a public holiday in countries such as Austria, Belgium, Chile, Croatia, France, parts of Germany, Guatemala, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and in parts of Switzerland. Blue is the color most often associated with the Virgin Mary. It symbolizes truth and clarity, and it is the color of the sky, which symbolizes heaven. The lily, which is a symbol of purity, chastity, and simplicity, is also associated with the Virgin Mary.