By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
For the first time that anyone could recall, rain blanketed the Jersey Shore on the Aug. 15 Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
But the precipitation that fell on and off throughout the day failed to dampen spirits in many coastal parishes of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. There, traditional processions to the waters went on as scheduled from morning to night, a joyful outdoor witness to the ancient belief that the Mother of Jesus was taken up to heaven at the end of her earthly life.
Preceded by Liturgies with homilies that illuminated the ageless story of the young and faithful woman whose “yes” to God changed the world, folks of all generations in the parishes of St. Rose, Belmar; St. Denis, Manasquan; St. Mary of the Assumption, Deal; and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Seaside Heights, gathered with their pastors, clergy and religious to observe time-honored customs associated with the solemnity, such as the blessing of the waters and flowers and herbs for good health.
And as he prepared to lead his first procession to the ocean waters off St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Deal, Father Peter James Alindogan – who arrived as pastor July 1 – reflected on the perfect timing of the great feast.
“It is a way to remind us of the centrality of the Assumption” in the Catholic calendar, he said, “a great thing to celebrate since it is so close to the summer break for many people. It’s an opportunity to lift our eyes to heaven [and contemplate] that we are working toward heaven.”
For Love of Mary
In Belmar, where skies threatened for most of the morning, rain began falling just as the annual procession from St. Rose Church reached the borough marina. Most faithful were prepared for this eventuality and opened umbrellas as the precipitation commenced. Several stepped forward to hold umbrellas over their pastor, Msgr. Edward Arnister, as he blessed the waters of the Shark River and the vessels moored in the marina.
It was here that a centuries-old rite unfolded as Msgr. Arnister threw a ring of fresh flowers into the waters commemorating the pious legend that originated after the bishop of Cervia was caught in a storm in 1445 while returning to Venice and was able to calm the seas by throwing his pastoral ring into the water.
Father David Baratelli, a priest of the Newark Archdiocese and chaplain in Newark Airport, had set the scene for the rite in his homily during the Mass, sharing the story of the bishop calming the seas as well as the long-held belief that when Mary’s tomb was opened after her death, masses of lilies and roses were found where her body should have been.
During the brief service, Msgr. Arnister spoke of how the rite signifies the pouring forth of blessings upon Mary as the Mother of Jesus. The flowers, he said, which make us mindful of the “beauty of Mary” represent hope for the safe harbor of Jesus.
At about the same time, 20 miles or so to the south in Seaside Heights, the procession made by visitors and parishioners from Our Lady of Perpetual Help headed down Grant Avenue to the boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean. This traditional observance, in which a statue of the Virgin is carried on a litter to the boardwalk, has been celebrated for as long as anyone can remember, according to the pastor, Conventual Franciscan Father Bart Karwacki.
For many, the feast affectionately referred to by many North Jersey transplants as "Salt Water Day," is so woven into the fabric of summer that rain wasn’t likely to bring it to a halt.
“We get phone calls every summer from North Jersey visitors to make sure we are doing it,” said Father Karwacki. “I just think it [shows] the love many people feel” for the Assumption, he said.
This year, the festival took on a bit of a North Jersey festal glow when three cousins, who recalled the feasts of their childhood there, decided to dress the statue according to customs they remembered fondly from their youth.
Angela Lardieri, Marlene Ciccone and Marie Fabiano shared how they got together and decided to adapt the old fundraising tradition of pinning money on statues that often takes place at processions. The three made a blue velvet cloak lined with white satin for the statue of the Blessed Mother.
“We personalized it,” said Lardieri, explaining that instead of pinning money on the cape, people instead wrote out prayer intentions and the cousins inscribed the intentions on ribbons. The day before the solemnity, the cousins said the cloak was bedecked with more than 200 ribbons in an effort that raised $1,000 for the parish.
Lardieri noted that the ribbons will remain on the statue through Labor Day with the intentions they signify prayed for during that time. “It’s a good way to make people feel part of something,” she said. “We feel blessed to have been a part of it ourselves.”
Mary by Twilight
As dusk began to settle, hundreds of faithful joined Father William Lago in Our Lady Star of the Sea Chapel, one of two worship sites in Manasquan, just steps from the beach.
This year, the blessing of flowers according to Eastern European custom was added to the observance as requested by a parishioner. In his homily, Father Lago spoke on how well the many diverse and beloved customs of the day reflect the American melting pot.
“The customs put us in mind of the promise Mary kept as she traveled with her son,” he said. Father Lago encouraged everyone to be mindful of the example of the mother of Jesus as she followed her son throughout his life and to the promised land at the end of her own earthly existence.
And, as they made ready to set off on the short journey to the water following the liturgy, he reminded them that “God’s grace falls upon the earth today. Go to the water and drink in all God has promised.”
The water blessed on this day is said to have curative powers, and scores of faithful headed down the beach to dip their feet in the brine and bring water back for others. Father Lago brought a wooden bowl to collect water he would use to anoint those who couldn’t journey to the shoreline.
Among those in attendance was Dorothy Devaney, 82, who shared her joy at being present for Mass at “Mary’s home on the beach,” as she calls the chapel, and the trip to the boardwalk with help from her daughter, Colleen Craig, and granddaughter Bridget.
For her, she said, the day was all about showing “an appreciation for what God has given us.”
“I’m very lucky,” she added with a smile. “I’m 82 years old, and this is a great gift from God. I appreciate all he has given me, and it’s a nice experience to share.”