August 15 is the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. For those of us who accompanied Fr. Simon Devereux, LC and his team to the Holy Land this past March, we can relate to this solemnity in a special way as we recall our own visit to Dormition Abbey, on Mount Zion just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Zion Gate. Built on land given by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898, the Abbey is a German Benedictine monastery under the special patronage of Our Lady’s Assumption, and rests on the place where the assumption most likely occurred. As with other sites in Jerusalem, there is much archaeological and other evidence to support the belief that this is the spot where this event took place.
The basilica of the Abbey is beautifully decorated in classic central European style, but for many of us, the crypt is the center of the visit. Here there are side chapels from the various countries which have contributed, done in their own national styles, so for example the Mexican chapel has a mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe prominently displayed, and the Austrian chapel featured a special relief of the Crucifixion, with Christ the King on the Cross accompanied by saints of great interest to Austria. The focal point of the crypt, however, is a cupola under which lies a figure of the Blessed Virgin, reposing on a stone bed, crafted by one of the monks, originally from Maria Laach monastery. Here the pilgrims come to offer their prayers to Our Lady, and to sing songs to her. Our group prayed silently for some time, then we sang the Salve Regina to her before having to leave for the next site.
For some of us, the time spent so close to Our Lady in Dormition was so intense that we had to repeat the experience. So on the last day in Jerusalem, one of us made another pilgrimage in traditional manner to Dormition, praying the Rosary while walking from our residence at the Notre Dame Center over to Dormition, then staying in the crypt to pray another five decades of the Rosary while in the presence of the figure of Our Lady. During that time, the pilgrim saw groups from Mexico, Brazil and Germany come into the crypt, each paying their homage to Our Lady in their own way: the Mexicans sang the Salve Regina, the Brazilians sang popular Christian songs, and the Germans listed to an earnest explanation of the significance of the Assumption and the figure of Our Lady.
As he prayed in the crypt, and especially during the periods of quiet between the visiting groups, the pilgrim could experience an incredible feeling of closeness to Our Lady, and it seemed could feel the holiness given this special place by the thousands of prayers said within its walls.
After the five Glorious Mysteries, it was time to leave Dormition, and the pilgrim departed for Notre Dame, and then for home, with heart filled with joy at having been so close to our Mother, and with hopes to return next year.
On this solemnity of the Assumption, we can recall the Council’s words that Mary “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross” (Lumen Gentium (LG) no. 58), and that “just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth.”(LG no. 68). So, united with our pilgrim Mother, consoler of her pilgrim people, the pilgrim will find memories of Dormition flooding back into the mind and heart, making the Mass of the Assumption all the more meaningful.