If you’ve seen one of the flyers for Holy Smoke! you may have noticed that our celebration includes “An Ecumenical Service of Prayer and Procession for the Feast of the Virgin Mary.” In case you’re wondering what that might look like, here are a few remarks about what we have in mind!
To begin with, the Episcopal Church holds that scripture contains “all things necessary to salvation.” What we mean by that is a refusal to consider any belief necessary that is not contained in scripture. While teachings from traditions other than scripture may be true, good and helpful, they are not necessary to salvation. With regard to Mary, we celebrate what we know of her from scripture. Although individuals among us may draw various conclusions about other aspects of Mary’s life, we don’t require anyone to share those conclusions.
August 15th is the day when we celebrate the end of Mary’s earthly ministry. Traditionally, we celebrate a saint on the day of the saint’s death. We do this to mark the day on which the saint entered into the fuller presence of God. We don’t know from scripture exactly how Mary did this, so the Episcopal Church does not require its members to hold any particular belief about it. What we know is that her ministry on Earth did end, and we presume that her Son was glad to receive her.
We share the date of our celebration with the rest of Christianity. Eastern Orthodox Christians call this day the Feast of the Dormition (sleeping), believing that Mary died a natural death, and that her body rested in the tomb for three days before being resurrected and taken up into heaven. Roman Catholics call this day the Feast of the Assumption, believing that Mary did not die a natural death but was taken bodily into heaven without dying. We all believe that Mary is in heaven and that she prays with us for the poor, the sick and the suffering.
Our focus will be on celebrating Mary’s release from the suffering she experienced in her life and on asking for her sympathy with those who likewise suffer. We will start our worship in front of the church. First we will go in procession around the outside of the church and then we will go around the inside. As we go, we will be singing a blues anthem, pausing after each verse to asking Mary to pray with us for the people of our neighborhood. Once we have gone inside, we will crown a statue of the Virgin Mary with flowers in celebration of the joy with which we presume she was received in heaven. After crowning the statue we with pray the Angelus. This prayer greets Mary with the words used by the Angel Gabriel in scripture when he announced that she was to bear the Son of God.
Our hope is that any Christian might be able to rejoice with us in this celebration of the faithful role Mary played in our salvation.