Less than two weeks ago we celebrated the greatest of all feasts dedicated to Mary: that of her assumption into heaven. One ancient custom associated with the feast is the blessing of herbs, especially in German speaking lands.
According to the Directory of Popular Piety the custom “represents a clear example of the genuine evangelisation of pre-Christian rites and beliefs: one must turn to God (…) in order to obtain what was formerly obtained by magic rites”.
As early as the 10th century people would bring all kinds of cultivated and wild flowers to church on the day of Mary’s assumption. In some places the custom is continued until this day. The herbs are held by the congregation or placed on the altar while the priest blesses them before Mass.
One of the prayers from the Roman Ritual:
God, who on this day raised up to highest heaven the rod of Jesse, the Mother of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that by her prayers and patronage you might communicate to our mortal nature the fruit of her womb, your very Son;
we humbly implore you to help us use these fruits of the soil for our temporal and everlasting welfare, aided by the power of your Son and the prayers of His glorious Mother; through Christ our Lord.
Your story is very inspiring and even if I have been raised in a Catholic household I can only say that I have started drawing closer to the Virgin Mary in the last 5 years. But this period in my life has been a special moment of being given the opportunity to cling to the Blessed Mother with all my heart, soul and mind.
Thank you for sharing your journey of understanding our faith. It gives me great conviction and encouragement and I hope you continue your authentic walk and bless more hearts like mine. :)
Thank you so much Kathy!
I am very pleased to hear you feel inspired by the story about my devotion for the Virgin Mary, as it was you who inspired me to write it.
I never really thought about it much, but I now realise that Mary has been a part of my life for a quarter of a century. May she continue inspiring and praying for us, ‘now and in the hour of our death’.
How did your devotion to the Blessed Mother start?
Hmm, interesting question…
As far as I can remember I first became aware of Mary when I was about 6 years old. It was my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary and a special Mass was celebrated for the occasion. In the back of the church stood a large white Madonna. I can clearly remember how drawn I was to this kind looking lady, the way she held her child and all the candles in front of her lighting up the dark church. That is when my fascination for Mary began.
Though my father was a Catholic, I grew up in my mother’s Protestant home town and attended a Protestant school. We read from the Bible every morning but there was never any mention of Mary, except during Advent. I made up for this in my spare time and started collecting images and statues of Mary, often bought at the flee markets my parents used to drag us kids along to. A somewhat unusual hobby for an 8 year old! These statues eventually landed up in my parent’s attic, where I set up a chapel with a school friend.
During my teenage years Mary very much disappeared to the background. A small iconoclasm took place in my bedroom. But when I was about 20 I started reading the books of the Dutch writer Gerard Reve, a convert to Catholicism with a great devotion for Mary. Thanks to his words my passion for Mary came back with a vengeance.
In 2002 I visited the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. There I witnessed how real Mary’s presence is in people’s lives. It was the beginning of my personal journey towards becoming a Catholic, which finally happened at Easter this year. For me this defines Mary’s role: she is a loving and protecting Mother who leads us to Jesus, her Son and our Saviour.
Tomorrow the Church celebrates the great feast of Mary’s assumption into heaven.
In 1950 the assumption was proclaimed a dogma. At the time psychologist Carl Gustav Jung commented on the religious and psychological significance of this event in his book ‘Answer to Job’:
"One could have known for a long time that there was a deep longing in the masses for an intercessor and mediatrix who would at last take her place alongside the Holy Trinity and be received as the ‘Queen of heaven and Bride at the heavenly court.’
(Mary’s) position satisfies a renewed hope for the fulfillment of that yearning for peace which stirs deep down in the soul, and for a resolution of the threatening tension between opposites.”