Human Flower Project
The Assumption’s Blessed Produce
The Feast Day marking the Virgin Mary’s arrival in Heaven also blesses the fruits and flowers of late summer—at least in the lands where plants survive August.
Late in the day we found this notice from Saint Mary’s church Pittston, Pennsylvania.
“Masses for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary will take place Monday, Aug. 15 at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church, 715 Hawthorne St., and noon at SS. Peter and Paul’s Church, 1000 Main St. The public is invited to bring flowers, vegetables, and herbs to be blessed at all of the feast day masses.”
We’d realized this was the Feast of the Assumption (also, in these parts, the polka mass of Praha Pout) but hadn’t realized that so many Catholic and Orthodox parishes observe this custom of blessing vegetables, herbs and flowers on the day Mary is believed to have entered heaven.
Understandably, this wouldn’t be a strong custom in Central Texas; mid-August is hardly “harvest time.” On the contrary, this is our deadly season, especially so this year as the historic drought extends.
Blessing of the Flowers, at the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate’s 54th Annual Holy Dormition Pilgrimage, Sloatsburg, NY, August 2008
Photo: The Way
But in Poland, Belarus, India, the mountains of Southern Mexico, and even closer spots like Buffalo, NY—or Pittston, PA – gardens are spilling over with zinnias and sunflowers, squash, grapes, and beans this time of year. So honoring the Virgin happily coincides with fresh and fragrant offerings.
“According to tradition,” write Catholic bloggers who call themselves Fish Eaters, “Our Lady’s tomb was not exactly found empty; lilies and roses were found where her body should have been. This Feast is associated with herbs and fruits, and the Roman Ritual includes a blessing for such. In some parishes and chapels, congregants will bring fresh flowers to adorn the church in Mary’s honor, and will bring the same along with fruit and herbs -—especially healing herbs—to be blessed and take home”
Feast of the Assumption, St. Mary’s in Auburn
Auburn, New York
Photo: Cleansing Fire
This account comes with several prayers for the Feast Day. Here’s one:
O God, who by Moses Thy servant didst command the children of Israel to carry their sheaves of new fruits to the priests for a blessing, to take the finest fruits of the orchards, and to make merry before Thee, the Lord their God: Kindly hear our supplications, and pour forth the abundance of Thy blessing upon us and upon these sheaves of new grain, new herbs, and assortment of fruits, which we gratefully present to Thee and which we bless on this feast in Thy name.
And grant that men, cattle, sheep, and beasts of burden may find in them a remedy against sickness, pestilence, sores, injuries, spells, the poison of snakes, and the bites of other venomous and non-venomous creatures.
And may they bring protection against diabolical illusions, machinations, and deceptions wherever they are kept or carried, or with whatever arrangement is made of them: that with sheaves of good works and through the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose Feast of the Assumption we celebrate, we may deserve to be lifted up to heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Infant Jesus church in Ponnapa Nadar Colony, (Nagercoil, Kanyakumari District, India
Photo: Infant Jesus
All this earthly bounty and beauty might attain even greater power from Mary’s altar: to become forces for healing.
This sermon, excerpted, is attributed to St. John Damascene (John of Damascus), (A.D. 676 - 754/787) and extends to mysteries of eloquence:
It is fitting that we should exalt her who is above all created things, governing them as Mother of the God who is their Creator, Lord, and Master.
Bear with me you who hang upon the divine words, and receive my good will. Strengthen my desire, and be patient with the weakness of my words.
It is as if a man were to bring a violet of royal purple out of season, or a fragrant rose with buds of different hues, or some rich fruit of autumn to a mighty potentate who is divinely appointed to rule over men.
Every day he sits at a table laden with every conceivable dish in the perfumed courts of his palace. He does not look at the smallness of the offering, or at its novelty so much as he admires the good intention, and with reason.
This he would reward with an abundance of gifts and favours. So we, in our winter of poverty, bring garlands to our Queen, and prepare a flower of oratory for the feast of praise. We break our mind’s stony desire with iron, pressing, as it were, the unripe grapes.
An altar of offerings at St. Peter’s Cathedral, Marquette, Michigan
Photo: Caritas Veritas
Here’s part of a lovely if homelier account of the Assumption preparations from Wisconsinite Florence Berger. One year, she and her family forgot that the Feast of the Assumption was approaching and found themsleves rushing out into the moonlight August 14 to gather their Mary herbs and flowers.
“Kathy’s little feet were crushing the creeping thyme in the path and the pungent odor reminded us to pick a whole family of thymes. We must have mints, too, for they were strewn on the streets and Church aisles for the Virgin’s procession. The cooking herbs were not forgotten. If I am to be Christ’s cook, I must use God’s herbs “for the service of men.” “In pottage without herbs there is neither goodness nor nourishment.
“Soon our aprons were full of a potpourri of fragrant sprays, and Kathy and I joined the others. We had gathered the best of our harvest. We made a diadem of our first fruits for the coronation of our Queen, for the day of the Assumption, the crown of all feasts in honor of Our Lady.”
Even in an ordinary year, we could never expect such a demonstration of faith here in Texas. If so, the Blessed Virgin would have to double up on her miracles: to endow fruits and flowers with her curative spirit, and somehow to grow them in our hellish heat.