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The August 15th, a religious holiday among Catholics and Orthodox and a public holiday in some countries, celebrates the rise of the Virgin to heaven. Marian feast par excellence, the feast of the Assumption has been the subject of a multitude of political recoveries successive, in the name of monarchy of divine right, of First Empire which makes this day his national holiday, of the July Monarchy which today exalts the Nation, of Second Empire which reactivates the celebrations of the First, of the Republic which keeps a holiday for the majority of French people.
August 15: what is the Assumption?
For Catholics, Mary, mother of Jesus of Nazareth, is prayed and honored as the best intercessor between her son and the believer. The Catholics, who consider Jesus as entirely Man and entirely God, therefore qualify Mary as "Mother of God" (Council of Ephesus of 431), without however giving her a divine nature which would call into question monotheism.
The Virgin Mary is the object of various feasts in the liturgical calendar: the Nativity of the Virgin, the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation (Mary, still a virgin, learns from the angel Gabriel that she is going to bear the divine child, breathed in by the Holy Spirit) and the Annunciation. During the Annunciation, Catholics celebrate the death of Mary who is taken body and soul directly from her son Jesus Christ. The story of Mary's death does not appear in the Bible, it is more of a tradition from apocryphal texts. The feast which celebrates the assumption of Mary and her ascension to heaven is set for August 15 at the beginning of the 6th century by the Emperor of Byzantium, Maurice, who thus definitively fixes the date of a feast already widespread in the East. In the West it would not happen until 813, under Charlemagne, following the Council of Mainz. The Byzantine Church and the Church of Rome, however, do not see things in the same way: for the Byzantines, who do not use the term Assumption, but Dormition, the Virgin was not removed body and soul, but simply died without suffering and in a perfect state of spiritual peace.
The debate revolves around whether or not the pseudo-John accepts the forty-eighth paragraph of the "Dormition of Mary":
« The apostles carried the beer and laid the precious and holy body in Gethsemane, in a new tomb. And behold, a delicate perfume emanated from the holy tomb of our Mistress, the Mother of God. And, for three days, the voices of invisible angels were heard glorifying Christ our God, born of her. And when the third day was over, the voices were no longer heard. From then on, we all knew that her flawless and precious body had been transferred to heaven.. »
Louis XIII consecrates France to the Virgin Mary
Marian worship, and in particular the feast of the Assumption, took on great importance in France in the 17th century. In 1630 the seriously ill King of France Louis XIII thought he owed his healing to a miracle and wanted to thank the Virgin Mary for it. He did not make this gesture, clearly and officially, until a few years later. In 1637, Louis XIII despaired of not having children: which certainly posed a human problem, but above all a political one by depriving the kingdom of male heir. Queen Anne of Austria finally becomes pregnant and to thank and ask for help from the Virgin Mary, the very pious king Louis XIII consecrates his kingdom to the mother of God. For this it was decided that Mary would necessarily find her place in all the churches of France: the churches which are not directly dedicated to her must at least dedicate a chapel to her. In addition to this, the king decides to organize processions every day of the Assumption to ask for an heir to the kingdom of France. From 1638 was born Louis Dieudonné, Dauphin of France, who would become Louis XIV! It was also Louis XIV who had the high altar of Notre-Dame de Paris redone, as his father had wished.
The action of Louis XIII gave a real boost to this celebration, the success of which continued until the Revolution.
The party battered under the Revolution and the Empire
The republican calendar adopted in 1792 calls into question the liturgical feasts, the Assumption is suppressed. The Assumption of the year 1793 is only the 28 Thermidor Year I of the Republic, day of the lupine… Christian worship is abused, and in particular the processions which are prohibited on August 16, 1792. Notre-Dame de Paris becomes a Temple of Reason, on November 23, 1793 the churches of the capital are closed… Militant atheism is only slowed down by men like Robespierre, who replace it with a state deism…
The great Catholic festivals only made their return with the Concordat passed between Napoleon the First Consul and Pope Pius VII in 1801. France found the Gregorian calendar under the Empire, in 1806. But this year is also the year in which Napoleon I emperor will use the feast of the Assumption to serve its own glorification and that of its political regime. Indeed, the new sovereign would like to have a politico-religious feast in the image of the feast of Saint-Louis which the kings of France had. The only problem is that the nascent Empire does not have a saint to worship in its short history ... Regardless, we pull out of the drawers an improbable Saint-Napoleon! Of course, this risks causing some concern with Catholics for whom no Saint Napoleon exists in the Roman Martyrologist.
But it was enough to look well, obviously, and this is what the cardinal legate Giovanni Battista Caprara did: finally, we did find a Saint Neapolis of the 4th century, of which Saint-Napoleon was of course only the francization ... Now that the Empire had its saint, it remained to make him celebrate. The saint's day was on May 2, we obviously risked the flop if the people did not come. The ingenious idea was to move the feast of the saint to Napoleon's birthday: August 15! Thus making the feast of Saint-Napoleon coincided with the Assumption, whatever happened the Catholics would move and we would not look for who they were doing it for ... August 15 became the national holiday, a political-religious feast that was the occasion of festivities throughout the Empire from 1806 to 1813: speeches by elected officials to praise the regime, fireworks ...
Of course the Restoration puts a strain on the cult of the Eagle avatar, only a few Bonapartist sympathizers continue to venerate the imperial martyr. However, the July Monarchy, always concerned with the memory of the First Empire, revived this cult with the return of the Ashes of Napoleon. These Ashes are seen as the embers of French unity and Saint-Napoleon was the occasion to celebrate the Revolution and the Nation.
Under the Second Empire, Napoleon III gave pride of place to the cult of his pseudo patron saint who once again became a real national holiday with military parades, games, prayers ... As for his uncle, the idea was clear, we had to do August 15 the feast which unites all French people and which glorifies the regime. Whether a few Catholics come only for the Virgin, or that a few Bonapartists only come for the regime, it does not matter: all of France must be celebrating this day under the aegis of the Emperor.
The questioning of August 15
If the cult of Saint-Napoleon naturally ran out of steam with the advent of the Republic, August 15 again essentially becomes the day of the Marian feast par excellence! The French Republic recognizes the feast of the Assumption as a public holiday (and not a non-working day, so it is possible to work on that day against financial compensation). As the majority of French people are Catholics, this public holiday assures them of being free from all work to participate in religious ceremonies. When in 1905 we pass the law of separation of Church and State, we do not go back on this holiday.
Since the militant atheists of 1792, it was not until the National Association of Directors of Human Resources (ANDRH) that in June 2012 the suppression of the feasts of the Assumption, Pentecost and Ascension was proposed. This is of course done in the name of secularism and access to leave for other denominations (which is often already the case for various professions, in addition to Catholic holidays). Concretely this request, which does not emanate from representatives of the different faiths in France, but from companies, would above all allow company heads to avoid bridges and redistribute leave as they wish since, therefore, the granting of a day of rest for a Christian feast would be subject to the requirements of services and / or the characteristics of the company… The project should be the subject of a “national debate”. For their part, the bishops of France, anxious to avoid any conflict, are not opposed to the project. After nearly four centuries of existence, one of the main festivals for Catholics (who remain in the majority in France) is therefore called into question for some capitalist interests ...
- Christian festivals: History, meaning and traditions, by Edith Momméja. EDB 2012.
- The Greek tradition of the Dormition and the Assumption of Mary. CERF, 2003.