“Assumption of the Virgin Mary” (August 15)- The custom of the consecration of herbs and the meaning of the feast

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Origin and meaning
The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary (Mary’s Assumption into Heaven), also called Great Women’s Day, Maria Würzweih or Tufted Women’s Day, is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church annually on August 15. The Assumption of Mary is a non-working holiday in Austria and some parts of Germany with a predominantly Catholic population.

The feast originated with Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century, who introduced it and placed it on August 15 (presumably as a counterpart to the celebration of the Assumption of the pagan deity Astraea). Assumption of the Virgin Mary is also the oldest known Marian feast.

The belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven has been proven since the 6th century and was elevated to dogma for the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XII in 1950.

There is no evidence for the Assumption of Mary in the New Testament. Only in the apocryphal gospels is it mentioned, but in greater detail. The legend says that the apostles were brought by air from their respective mission places to the deathbed of Mary (either Jerusalem or Ephesus).

Then they would have buried Mary and closed the tomb with a large stone after her death. However, at the same time, Jesus Christ appeared with his angels and the stone was rolled away. Christ then called Mary out and took her with him to heaven.

The custom of the consecration of herbs
Every year on the feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15), the ritual of blessing herbs has taken place in the Catholic Church for centuries. Here, different herbs are bound into bouquets and brought to the blessing or consecration. Since the earliest times, herbs and their healing properties have been vital to people of all cultures. In addition, they were often considered gifts from heaven or the deity.

The custom of blessing herbs itself goes back to an ancient legend, according to which the disciples would have opened the tomb of the Virgin Mary and found their flowers and herbs instead of her corpse. This tradition was first mentioned in the Catholic Church in the 9th century.

This ritual has firm roots among the rural population. Since Mary has been venerated as a holy and immaculate creature since the beginning of Christianity, it is also not surprising that the custom of blessing herbs is mainly associated with her. Mary is a symbol of the healing power of God on man.

Seven or more herbs are bound into the herb bunches depending on the region. Typical herbs used are elecampane, St. John’s wort, wormwood, mugwort, tansy, yarrow, mullein, chamomile, thyme, valerian, verbena, agrimony, clover, and various cereals.

In some regions, as many plant flowers were included in the herbal bunches as there were people, cows and horses on the farm. Especially the tea made from these consecrated herbs was supposed to have a significant healing effect. Consecrated herbs were often mixed into the feed of sick animals.

As protection against lightning during thunderstorms, people threw herbs from the blessed bush into the open fire. The number of herbs (mostly with symbolic background) varies from region to region:

7 (number of days of the week or creation, seven sacraments, seven sorrows of Mary, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit),
9 (three times three for the Holy Trinity),
12 (number of apostles),
14 (number of emergency helpers),
24 (twice twelve: twelve tribes of Israel from the Old Testament or twelve apostles of Christ from the New Testament),
72 (six times twelve, the latter being the number of Jesus’ disciples),
99 (parable of the 100 sheep, parable of the prodigal son in the New Testament).
Today’s ritual of blessing herbs provides that herbs are tied into a bouquet and brought to the church on the Solemnity of the Assumption. The priest blesses these during or after the service. The consecration of herbs is one of the sacramentals in the Catholic Church.

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