Assumption: History of Liturgy

Development of the Liturgical Celebration of the Assumption

It is often stated: As the Church prays, so she believes. The great prayer of the Liturgy aided the development of the doctrine of the Assumption. There are sources which place the earliest celebration of the feast at Antioch from the fourth century on. O'Carroll writes: "The starting-point was Jerusalem. There was hesitancy and variation even in the name used for the feast as time passed: Dormition, Passing, and Assumption." Emperor Maurice established the feast of the Dormition for Constantinople on August 15, in the year 600. It was established fifty years later in Rome, where it had the special status of being celebrated with a procession.

The Coptic Church celebrated a feast in honor of Mary's death on January 16 by the mid sixth century, and her Assumption on August 9, as testified to in a homily of Theodosius, Monophysite patriarch of Alexandria.

Theoteknos of Livias, a bishopric on the left bank of the Jordan, "speaks of the feast as the Assumption (Analepsis), not Dormition (Koimesis)." He says, "If the God bearing body of the saint has known death, it has not, nevertheless, suffered corruption; it has been preserved from corruption and kept free from stain and it has been raised to heaven with her pure, spotless soul by the holy angels and powers." Further on he states: "It was fitting that the most-holy body of Mary, God-bearing body, receptacle of God, divinised, incorruptible, illuminated by divine grace and full of glory...should be entrusted to the earth for a little while and raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul pleasing to God." (p. 57)

By all accounts the Assumption was fully accepted and celebrated liturgically throughout the East. In the West, accounts of the Assumption liturgy and belief are variable. There is a liturgical prayer sent to Charlemagne by Pope Adrian which speaks of the Mother of God who "suffered temporal death, but nevertheless could not be held back by the bonds of death, she who brought forth your Son, Our Lord, incarnate from herself." (p. 57)

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