Blessing of the Herbs Tradition

Among the second group of arrivals to the young city of New Orleans in 1732 was an Ursuline nun, Sister St. Francis Xavier Hebert, first director of the French Royal Hospital. She planted a garden next to her hospital pharmacy in the courtyard of the Old Ursuline Convent. It was rich in plants and herbs which she used in her ministry of healing by creating medicinal potions and remedies for the soldiers and community. Sister St. Francis Xavier Hebert is historically recognized as the first female pharmacist in the United States. Her contributions to Ursuline and the city of New Orleans are honored every year on the Feast of the Assumption and through the blessing of the herbs.

Throughout its history, various levels of meaning for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary have developed. From earliest days, the Church has used language about the triumphal procession of Mary into heaven. With myrtle and bay she went forth as the bride of both heaven and earth. This procession into the clouds of heaven is likened to the bridal procession, the bride bedecked with gold, flowers, and scented herbs. In many European countries this is the traditional day for the blessings of herb gardens and the ripe harvest. This feast located in the long days of summer point to the harvest and the end of time. This feast is inextricably linked to Mary, the bearer of God's son, and the fruits of creation.

Nearly 300 years later, we continue to honor this Ursuline tradition on the Feast of the Assumption. We are blessed to have had Archbishop Gregory Aymond celebrate this special Mass in The National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.