Thursday, August 15, 2013

Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary

Today the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven; rejoice, for she reigns with Christ forever.” The Church will close her chants on this glorious day with this sweet antiphon which resumes the object of the feast and the spirit in which it should be celebrated.

No other solemnity breathes, like this one, at once triumph and peace; none better answers to the enthusiasm of the many and the serenity of souls consummated in love. Assuredly that was as great a triumph when our Lord, rising by his own power from the tomb, cast hell into dismay; but to our souls, so abruptly drawn from the abyss of sorrows on Golgotha, the suddenness of the victory caused a sort of stupor to mingle with the joy of that greatest of days. In presence of the prostrate Angels, the hesitating Apostles, the women seized with fear and trembling, one felt that the divine isolation of the Conqueror of death was perceptible even to his most intimate friends, and kept them, like Magdalene, at a distance.

Mary’s death, however, leaves no impression but peace; that death had no other cause than love. Being a mere creature, she could not deliver herself from that claim of the old enemy; but leaving her tomb filled with flowers, she mounts up to heaven, flowing with delights, leaning upon her Beloved. Amid the acclamations of the daughters of Sion, who will henceforth never cease to call her blessed, she ascends surrounded by choirs of heavenly spirits joyfully praising the Son of God. Nevermore will shadows veil, as they did on earth, the glory of the most beautiful daughter of Eve. Beyond the immovable Thrones, beyond the dazzling Cherubim, beyond the flaming Seraphim, onward she passes, delighting the heavenly city with her sweet perfumes. She stays not till she reaches the very confines of the Divinity; close to the throne of honor where her Son, the King of ages, reigns in justice and in power; there she is proclaimed Queen, there she will reign for evermore in mercy and in goodness.

Here on earth Libanus and Amana, Sanir and Hermon dispute the honor of having seen her rise to heaven from their summits; and truly the whole world is but the pedestal of her glory, as the moon is her footstool, the sun her vesture, the stars of heaven her glittering crown. “Daugher of Sion, thou art all fair and sweet,” cries the Church, as in her rapture she mingles her own tender accents with the songs of triumph: “I saw the beautiful one as a dove rising up from the brooks of waters; in her garments was the most exquisite odor; and as in the days of spring, flowers of roses surrounded her and lilies of the valley.”

The same freshness breathes from the facts of Bible history wherein the interpreters of the sacred Books see the figure of Mary’s triumph. As long as this world lasts a severe law protects the entrance to the eternal palace; no one, without having first laid aside the garb of flesh, is admitted to contemplate the King of heaven. There is one, however, of our lowly rare, whom the terrible decree does not touch; the true Esther, in her incredible beauty, advances without hindrance through all the doors. Full of grace, she is worthy of the love of the true Assuerus; but on the way which leads to the awful throne of the King of kings, she walks not alone; two handmaids, one supporting her steps, the other holding up the long folds of her royal robe, accompany her; they are the angelic nature and the human, both equally proud to hail her as their mistress and lady, and both sharing in her glory.

If we go back from the time of captivity, when Esther saved her people, to the days of Israel’s greatness, we find our Lady’s entrance into the city of endless peace, represented by the Aueen of Saba coming to the earthly Jerusalem. While she contemplates with rapture the magnificence of the mighty prince of Sion, the pomp of her own retinue, the incalculable riches of the treasure she brings, her precious stones and her spices, plunge the whole city into admiration. There was brought no more, says the Scripture, such abundance of spices as these which the Queen of Saba gave to King Solomon.

The reception given by David’s son to Bethsabee, his mother, in the third Book of Kings, no less happily expresses the mystery of today, so replete with the filial love of the true solomon. Then Bethsabee came to King Solomon … and the king arose to meet her, and bowed to her, and sat down upo nhis throne: and a throne was set for the king’s mother: and she sat on his right hand. O Lady, how exceedingly dost thou surpass all the servants and ministers and friends of God! “On the day when Gabriel came to my lowliness,” are the words St. Ephrem puts into thy mouth, “from handmaid I became Queen; and I, the slave of thy divinity, found myself suddenly the mother of thy humanity, my Lord and my Son! O Son of the King who hast made me his daughter, O thou heavenly One, who thus bringest into heaven this daughter of earth, by what name shall I call thee?” The Lord Christ himself answered; the God made Man revealed to us the only name which fully expresses him in his two-fold nature: he is called The Son. Son of Man as he is Son of God, on earth he has only a Mother, as in heaven he has only a Father. In the august Trinity he proceeds from the Father, remaining consubstantial with him; only distingushed from him in that he is Son; producing together with him, as one Principle, the Holy Ghost. In the external mission he fulfills by the Incarnation to the glory of the Blessed Trinity—communicating to his humanity the manners, so to say, of his Divinity, as far as the diversity of the two natures permits—he is in no way separated from his Mother, and would have her participate even in the givin gof the Holy Ghost to every soul. This ineffable union is the foundation of all Mary’s greatnesses, which are crowned by today’s triumph. The days within the Octave will give us an opportunity of showing some of the consequences of this principle; today let it suffice to have laid it down.

“As Christ is the Lord,” says Arnold of Bonneval, the friend of St. Bernard, “Mary is Lady and sovereign. He who bends the knee before the Son, kneels before the Mother. At the sound of her name the devils tremble, men rejoice, the Angels glorify God. Mary and Christ are one flesh, one mind, and one love. From the day when it was said The Lord is with thee, the grace was irrevocable, the unity inseparable; and in speaking of the glory of Son and Mother, we must call it not so much a common glory as the self-same glory.” “O thou, the beauty and the honor of thy Mother,” adds the great deacon of Edessa, “thus hast thou adorned her in every way; together with others she is thy sister and thy bride, but she alone conceived thee.”

Ruper in his turn cries out: “Come then, O most beautiful one, thou shalt be crowned in heaven Queen of saints, on earth Queen of every kingdom. Wherever it shall be said of the Beloved that he is crowned with glory and honor, and set over the works of his Father’s hands, everywhere also shall they proclaim of thee, O well beloved, that thou art his Mother, and as such Queen over every domain where his power extends; and, therefore, emperors and kings shall crown thee with their crowns and consecrate their palaces to thee.”

Who is this King of glory? asked the keepers of the eternal gates, on the day of Emmanuel’s triumphant Ascension. Their question is twice repeated in the Psalm, and a third time in Isaias, who cries out in the name of the heavenly citizens: Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra, this beautiful one in his robe, walking in the greatness of his strength? In like manner do the Angelic Princes twice express their admiration of the Virgin Mother. It is the sacred Canticle that tells us so. Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising? This first question, as St. Peter Damian says, refers to Mary’s birth, which put an end to the night of sin.

“Who is she that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices? This is the expression of the Angels’ astonishment at the Virgin’s incomparable life, with its uninterrupted progress in all the virtues, like the sweet smoke rising from the incense.

Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her beloved? Such, in the sight of the Angels, was Mary rising from her tomb.

She had fulfilled her mission, accomplished the prophecy, crushed the head of the serpent. The blessed spirits who accompanied her, cried out to the guardians of the heavenly ramparts, in the words of the triumphant Psalm: “Open your gates!” So Judith, a type of Mary returning victories, had cried: Open the gates, for God is with us, who hath shown his power in Israel. The eternal gates were lifted up, and all the inhabitants of heaven, from the least to the greatest, went forth to meet the second Judith coming up from the earth’s lowly valley; and they rejoiced with far greater exultation than did Israel brought the figurative Ark into the holy city.

Let us echo the heaven’s joy, and with our solemn Introit as a triumphal march, usher Mary into the true Jerusalem. The Verse is taken from the forty-fourth Psalm, the Epithalamium, thus linking the chants of the Holy Sacrifice with last night’s Lessons from the sacred Canticle.

PRAYER

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes sub honore beatæ Mariæ Virginis: de cujus Assumptione gaudent Angli, et collaudant Filium Deo.

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival day in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for those whoe Assumption the Angels rejoice and give praise to the Son of God.

Ps. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum: dico ego opera mea Regi. ℣. Glorida Patri. Gaudeamus.

Ps. My heart hath uttered a good word: I speak my works to the King. ℣. Glory, &c. Let us all.

The following Prayer asks for the pardon and salvation through the intercession of the Mother of God. Its apparent want of harmony with the mystery of the feast might surprise us, did we not remember that it is only the second Collect for the day, in the Sacramentary; the first, which we have given above, and which was said over the faithful at the beginning of the assembly, expressly declares that Mary could not be held by the bonds of death.

COLLECT

Famulorum tuorum quæsumus Domine, delictis innosce: ut, qui tibi placere de actibus nostris non valemus, Genitrices Filii tui Domini nostri intercessione salvemur. Qui tecum.

Pardon, we beseech thee, O Lord, the sins of thy servants; that we, who are not able to please thee by our deeds, may be saved by the intercessions of the Mother of thy Son. Who lives, &c.

The Epistle is closely connected with the Gospel that is to follow. The rest that Mary sought is the better part, the repose of the soul in the presence of the Peaceful King; and when a soul is thus full of peace, she forms the choicest part of her Lord’s inheritance No creature has attained so nearly as our Lady to the eternal, unchangeable peace of the ever-tranquil Trinity; hence no other has merited to become, in the same degree, the resting place of God.

A soul occupied by active works cannot attain the perfection or the fruitfulness of one in whom our Lord takes his rest, becauce she is at rest in him; for this is the nuptial rest. As the Psalm says: “When the Lord shall give sleep to his beloved, then shall their fruit be seen.”

Let us, then, who became Mary’s children on the day the Lord first rested in her tabernacle, understand these magnificent expressions of Eternal Wisdom; for they reveal to us the glory of her triumph. The branch that sprang from the stock of Jesse bears the divine Flower on which rests the fullness of the Holy Ghost; but it has taken root also in the elect, into whose branches it passes the heavenly sap, which transforms them and divinizes their fruit. These fruits of Jacob and of Israel, i.e., the works of the ordinary Christian life or of the life of perfection, belongs therefore to our Blessed Mother. Rightly then does Mary enter today upon her unending rest in the eternal Sion—the true holy city and glorified people—the Lord’s inheritance. Her power will be established in Jerusalem and the Saints will forever acknowledge that they owe to her the fullness of their perfection.

But the plenitude of Mary’s personal merits far surpasses that of all the Saints together. As the cedar of Libanus towers above the flowers of the field, far more does our Lad’s sanctity, next to that of her divine Son, surpass the sanctity of every other creature. In a homily for this Feast, the Angelic Doctor says: “The trees to which the Blessed Virgin is compared in this Epistle may be taken to represent the different orders of the blessed. This passage therefore means: that Mary has been exalted above the Angels, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Virgins, and all the Saints, because she possesses all their merits united in her single person.”

The Gradual is taken, as was the Verse of the Introit, from the 44th Psalm. In it we sing those perfections of the Bride that have caused the King of kings to call her to himself. The Alleluia Verse tells us how the angelic army hailed the entrance of its Queen.

The the Gospel the Roman Liturgy formerly added, as the Greek and the Mozarabic still add, the following verses from another chapter of St. Luke: As he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crows lifting up her voice said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.

The words thus added turned the people’s thoughts towards our Lady; still the episode of Martha and Mary in the Gospel of the day remained unexplained. We will use the words of St. Bruno of Asti to express the reason tradition gives for the choice of this Gospel. “These two women,” he says, “are the leaders of the army of the Church, and all the faithful follow them. Some walk in Martha’s footsteps, others in Mary’s; but no one can reach our heavenly fatherland unless he follows one or the other. Rightly then have our fathers ordained that this Gospel should be read on the principal feast of our Lady, for she is signified by these two sisters. For no other creature combined the privileges of both lives, active and contemplative, as did the Blessed Virgin. Like Martha she received Christ—yea, she did more than Martha, for she received him not only into her house, but into her womb. She conceived him, gave him birth, carried him in her arms, and ministered to him more frequently than did Martha. On the other hand, she listened, like Mary, to his words, and kept them for our sake, pondering them in her heart. She contemplated his Humanity and penetrated more deeply than all others into his Divinity. She chose the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

“He,” continues St. Bernard, “whom she received at his entrance into this poor world, receives her today at the gate of the holy City. No spot on earth so worthy of the Son of God as the Virgin’s womb: no throne in heaven so lofty as that whereon the Son of Mary places her in return. What a reception each gave to the other! It is beyond the power of expression, because beyond the reach of our thought. Who shall declare the generation of the son, and the Assumption of the Mother?”

In honor of both Mother and Son, let us put this Lesson of the Gospel into practice in our lives. When our soul is troubled, like Martha, or distracted with many anxieties, let us always remember, as Mary did, that there is but one thing necessary. Our Lord alone, either in himself or in his members, should be the one object of our thoughts.

Every human thing is of more or less importance in proportion to its relation to God’s glory; we should value everything in this porportion, and then the grace of God which surpasseth all understanding will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Today the Church on earth, represented by Martha, complains that she has been left alone to struggle and labor; but our Lord defends Mary, and confirms her in her choice of the better part. The Angels are keeping a great feast in heaven; the Offertory once more tells of their joy.

OFFERTORY

Assumpta est Maria in cœlum: gandent Angeli, collaudantes benedicunt Dominum. Alleluia.

Mary is assumed into heaven, the Angels rejoice, praising together they bless the Lord. Alleluia.

We must now allow anything like regret or envy to cast a shadow over our hearts. Mary has finished her pilgrimage and left our earth; but now that she has entered into her glory, she still prays for us. So says the Secret.

SECRET

Subveniat, Domine, plebi tuæ Dei Genitricia oratrio: quam etsi pro conditione carnis migrasse cognoscimus, in cœlesti gloria apud te pro nobis intercedere santiamus. Per eumdem.

May the prayer of the Mother of God assist thy people, O Lord; though we know her to have passed out of this world, may we experience her intercession for us with thee in the glory of heaven. Through the same Lord, &c.

If you loved me, said our Lord to his disciples when about to leave them, you would indeed be glad because I go to the Father. Let us, who love our Lady, be glad because she goes to her Son, and, as we sing in the Communion Anthem, the better part is hers forever. The sacred Bread, for which we are indebted to Mary, remains always with us. May It, through her intercession, preserve us from all evils!

POSTCOMMUNION

Mensæ cœlestis participes effecti, imploramus clementiam tuam, Domine Deus noster: ut, qui Assumptionem Deo Genitricis colimus, a cunctis malis imminentibus, ejus intercessione liberemur. Per eumdem.

Having been made partakers of a heavenly banquet, we implore thy mercy, O Lord our God: that we who celebrate the Assumption of the Mother of God, may by her intercession be delivered from all threatening evils. Through the same Lord, etc.

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