Parishioners pray during the Mass for the Solemnity of the Assumption in Our Lady Star of the Sea Chapel.
Parishioners pray during the Mass for the Solemnity of the Assumption in Our Lady Star of the Sea Chapel.

Those who gathered in and around Our Lady Star of the Sea Beach Chapel in Manasquan Aug. 15 had many causes for joy.

In celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the gathering of several hundred local parishioners and visitors took part in evening Mass; witnessed the feast day’s traditional Blessing of Flowers and Herbs; prayed with a group of 14 women who made a special consecration to the Blessed Mother, and participated in a procession to the nearby beach where Father Bill Lago led a blessing of the ocean.

But the part of the evening that seemed to spur the greatest joy was when the faithful gathered around the outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother where Father Lago offered a special prayer and blessing.

“I am so happy to see her,” one parishioner said. “She’s beautiful!”

PHOTO GALLERY: Assumption Mass in Our Lady Star of the Sea Beach Chapel

It had been just 10 days prior when the bronze statue depicting the Blessed Mother under her title, Our Lady Star of the Sea and showing Mary holding a ship in her hands, was vandalized during the night of Aug. 5.

Father Lago, pastor of St. Denis Parish, Manasquan, of which the Beach Chapel is part, said he was notified by a parishioner who lives nearby and saw that the statue had been pushed over. Police that determined that vandalism was the motive.

Calling it a blessing that the damage was minor because a tree branch buffered the fall, Father Lago explained, “There is only slight damage to the boat Mary is depicted carrying. The pedestal was knocked off the base and the statue had one bolt snapped off and the other broken, which attached the statue to the pedestal,” he said. The statue had been moved indoors for several days after the incident but was ready to be put back into place outside in front of the church by Aug. 15.

Lessons of the Assumption

During his homily, Father Lago focused on the Magnificat, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and declared that she was to become the Mother of God. Father Lago urged the congregation to follow Mary’s example by being attentive and saying “yes” to the will of God in their lives.

“Be open to all that God gives us,” he said. “God’s grace falls upon us in a unique way.”

Father Lago explained the history and meaning of the special blessings that were about to take place. He said that the Blessing of the Herbs is a centuries’ old legend that coincided with harvest time and served as an opportunity to give thanks and praise to the Lord for the bountiful harvest.

The Blessing of Flowers dates back to the discovery by the apostles that Mary’s body was no longer in the tomb after she had died; she had been assumed into heaven; body and soul. However, the tomb was filled with flowers.

According to Father Lago, the Blessing of the Sea custom goes back to the 15th century Italy, when a bishop, traveling upon a stormy sea on the Feast of the Assumption, threw his pastoral ring into the sea and calmed the waters. It has since become a tradition in coastal cities throughout Europe and the United States. Over time, the faithful attributed healing powers to the waters blessed on this feast.

Faithful Followers

As congregants made the short trip to the boardwalk, some carrying empty bottles to fill with the soon-to-be blessed Holy Water, they reflected on their devotion to the Blessed Mother.

“Mary has been my rock,” said parishioner Joan Valeriani, noting that she was “knee-high” and very young when she was told by her mother to pray to the Blessed Mother because Mary is the way to Jesus and “Jesus never turns his mother down.”

Valeriani said that although it was a short walk from the Beach Chapel to the boardwalk, she felt like she was making a prayerful pilgrimage.

“I’ve been on pilgrimages to the beautiful shrines in Fatima and the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland,” she said. “But today too feels like a pilgrimage. It’s a refreshing way to spend the Holy Day.”

Mary Beth Krauss, a parishioner for 25 years who took part in the procession for the first time, was impressed by the large number of people in attendance, many of whom wanted to be there especially for the blessing of the statue.

Extending appreciation to her parents for instilling a devotion to the Blessed Mother, Krauss said, “My mom always prayed the Rosary, and the Hail Mary was my dad’s favorite prayer. He always said it right up until he died. Their devotion was passed on to me.”