About the Icon of the Dormition (so worth reading!)

Blessed Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary!
(or of the Dormition of the Theotokos to my Eastern and Orthodox brethren)

As we usually do on Holy Days, our family went to the 8:15 Mass at the Pastoral Center, or as the kids say, we went to Mass at Daddy’s work.

It’s Ben’s favorite place to go to Mass, partly because the Mass is shorter and partly, I think, because there are fewer people. He really doesn’t like crowds.

I confess it’s one of my favorite places too. The Bethany chapel is simple and so is the liturgy, but it is beautiful and prayerful and usually free of distractions that aren’t caused by our kids.

Today’s homily was really beautiful. I confess a couple of tears rolled down my cheeks. First, Father reflected on his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Cardinal Sean and other priests of the Archdiocese. He said that by the time he got up the hill to the site of the Visitation he was winded and needed a drink of water. And imagined Mary having to walk up and down the hill to fetch water, etc. as she helped Elizabeth. (He didn’t mention, but I thought about how Mary was expecting too and how exhausting that first trimester is, which makes Mary’s devotion to her cousin all the more moving.) Next, he considered how we know all of these places in the Holy Land: the site of the crucifixion, the tomb, the nativity, the Last Supper. How oral tradition has handed down this information reliably. And yet, he said, there is no record of Mary’s tomb. Instead, all we have is the Church of the Dormition, the place where she died. If Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, had been buried, surely her tomb would have become a place of pilgrimage, a place remembered and treasured and revered. But instead we reflect today on the fact that she was not buried but was preserved from corruption.

And then he turned to the Ark of the Covenant and described it, made of rare wood and covered with gold with two seraphim bending over the top, it contains the two tablets of stone that Moses brought down from Sinai, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the tablets of God’s covenant with his people. No one could touch it, it was carried by poles. When one man did accidentally touch it he was struck dead. Mary is the New Ark of the New Covenant. She is preserved from corruption because it is fitting that it be so that she who bore the Lord in her body should not decay any more than he did.

And then he told how King David exclaimed, And who am I that the Ark of the Lord should come to me? and he danced before it. And Elizabeth exclaims, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And the child within her dances.

But Mary is not remote from us. She is not taken away from us. She is close. And so we too can ask, Who am I that the Mother of Our Lord should come to me?

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The first reading today was from Revelation. In it the Ark of the Covenant is revealed in the heavenly temple and then we see the woman clothed in the sun with the moon under her feet and the diadem of twelve stars on her head. Don’t blink or you might miss it: they are one and the same. The woman is the Ark. The first time I heard that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Delight and the uncanny. How could I have missed it? How could I not have known that Mary is the Ark? What a revelation that was to me.

And then the second reading from Corinthians led me to ponder how if Jesus is the firstfruits of the Resurrection, then it is so very fitting that his mother follow him immediately upon her death. He preserved her from sin, why wouldn’t he preserve her from corruption as well? Isn’t this the point of the resurrection?

On the way to Mass Bella wondered what the Gospel would be since the story of the assumption is not told in the Gospels. But how beautiful that we have the Visitation and the Magnificat. Here really is the root and source of the doctrine of the assumption. Here is Mary bringing Christ to Elizabeth, here is Elizabeth acknowledging God’s presence within Mary and John the Baptist leading the way, dancing for joy and telling his mother who it is that is before her.

Oh but my musings are so feeble and there are so many better things to ponder….

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What I did not hear at Mass today

. . . but would absolutely love to: The Introit chant from the Graduale, Signum Magnum


Signum magnum
apparuit in caelo:
mulier amicta sole,
et luna sub pedibus ejus,
et in capite ejus
corona stellarum duodecim.

Cantate Domino canticum novum: quia mirabilia fecit.

A great sign
appeared in heaven:
a woman clothed with the sun,
and the moon under her feet,
and on her head
a crown of twelve stars.

Sing unto the Lord a new song, for he has done wondrous deeds.

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And then see this Commentary on the Signum Magnum at the Chant Cafe

It never ceases to amaze me the musical and lyrical connections found in the Gregorian Propers. The more one studies the chants, the more one comes to realize why these pieces form the official music of the Church. People who grew up with these melodies would have been all too familiar with the popular Puer Natus and, upon hearing the verse from the Signum magnum, would have been immediately transported to the Mass of Christmas Day. Whether the connection in their minds be conscious or subconscious, it would have been made nonetheless. Examples of these types of parallels are bountiful in the Gregorian repertoire. The reality is that the liturgy and Gregorian chant developed in tandem; as the liturgy, guided by the Holy Spirit, was finding its voice, that voice became expressed in the Gregorian melodies that grew up along side of it. For this reason, the two are inseparable. This is why, while other forms of music, such as Sacred Polyphony, may be appropriate to express the grandeur of the Sacred Liturgy, they will always be subordinate to the Gregorian compositions.* This is also why a period of history that has marginalized, or even eliminated, the Gregorian Chant that is proper to the liturgy is a period that will necessarily lose sight of the essence of the sacramental mysteries that constitute life in the Church.

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But oh, yes, that polyphony is so beautiful:

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A homily by Pope Benedict XVI:

The Feast of the Assumption is a day of joy. God has won. Love has won. It has won life. Love has shown that it is stronger than death, that God possesses the true strength and that his strength is goodness and love.

Mary was taken up body and soul into Heaven: there is even room in God for the body. Heaven is no longer a very remote sphere unknown to us.

We have a mother in Heaven. And the Mother of God, the Mother of the Son of God, is our Mother. He himself has said so. He made her our Mother when he said to the disciple and to all of us: “Behold, your Mother!”. We have a Mother in Heaven. Heaven is open, Heaven has a heart.

Oh it’s so good with beautiful reflections on the Magnificat.

Mary’s poem – the Magnificat – is quite original; yet at the same time, it is a “fabric” woven throughout of “threads” from the Old Testament, of words of God.

Thus, we see that Mary was, so to speak, “at home” with God’s word, she lived on God’s word, she was penetrated by God’s word. To the extent that she spoke with God’s words, she thought with God’s words, her thoughts were God’s thoughts, her words, God’s words. She was penetrated by divine light and this is why she was so resplendent, so good, so radiant with love and goodness.

Mary lived on the Word of God, she was imbued with the Word of God. And the fact that she was immersed in the Word of God and was totally familiar with the Word also endowed her later with the inner enlightenment of wisdom.

Whoever thinks with God thinks well, and whoever speaks to God speaks well. They have valid criteria to judge all the things of the world. They become prudent, wise, and at the same time good; they also become strong and courageous with the strength of God, who resists evil and fosters good in the world.

Thus, Mary speaks with us, speaks to us, invites us to know the Word of God, to love the Word of God, to live with the Word of God, to think with the Word of God. And we can do so in many different ways: by reading Sacred Scripture, by participating especially in the Liturgy, in which Holy Church throughout the year opens the entire book of Sacred Scripture to us. She opens it to our lives and makes it present in our lives.

And this on Mary’s closeness:

Mary is taken up body and soul into the glory of Heaven, and with God and in God she is Queen of Heaven and earth. And is she really so remote from us?

The contrary is true. Precisely because she is with God and in God, she is very close to each one of us.

While she lived on this earth she could only be close to a few people. Being in God, who is close to us, actually, “within” all of us, Mary shares in this closeness of God. Being in God and with God, she is close to each one of us, knows our hearts, can hear our prayers, can help us with her motherly kindness and has been given to us, as the Lord said, precisely as a “mother” to whom we can turn at every moment.

She always listens to us, she is always close to us, and being Mother of the Son, participates in the power of the Son and in his goodness. We can always entrust the whole of our lives to this Mother, who is not far from any one of us.

You really should read the whole thing

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from today’s Office of Readings:

From the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus by Pope Pius XII
Your body is holy and excelling in splendor

In their homilies and sermons on this feast the holy fathers and great doctors spoke of the assumption of the Mother of God as something already familiar and accepted by the faithful. They gave it greater clarity in their preaching and used more profound arguments in setting out its nature and meaning. Above all, they brought out more clearly the fact that what is commemorated in this feast is not simply the total absence of corruption from the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary but also her triumph over death and her glorification in heaven, after the pattern set by her only Son, Jesus Christ.

Thus Saint John Damascene, preeminent as the great preacher of this truth of tradition, speaks with powerful eloquence when he relates the bodily assumption of the loving Mother of God to her other gifts and privileges: “It was necessary that she who had preserved her virginity inviolate in childbirth should also have her body kept free from all corruption after death. It was necessary that she who had carried the Creator as a child on her breast should dwell in the tabernacles of God. It was necessary that the bride espoused by the Father should make her home in the bridal chambers of heaven. It was necessary that she, who had gazed on her crucified Son and been pierced in the heart by the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in giving him birth, should contemplate him seated with the Father. It was necessary that the Mother of God should share the possessions of her Son, and be venerated by every creature as the Mother and handmaid of God.”

Saint Germanus of Constantinople considered that it was in keeping not only with her divine motherhood but also with the unique sanctity of her virginal body that it was incorrupt and carried up to heaven: “In the words of Scripture, you appear in beauty. Your virginal body is entirely holy, entirely chaste, entirely the house of God, so that for this reason also it is henceforth a stranger to decay: a body changed, because a human body, to a preeminent life of incorruptibility, but still a living body, excelling in splendor, a body inviolate and sharing in the perfection of life.”

Another early author declares: “Therefore, as the most glorious Mother of Christ, our God and Savior, giver of life and immortality, she is enlivened by him to share an eternal incorruptibility of body with him who raised her from the tomb and took her up to himself in a way he alone can tell.”

All these reasonings and considerations of the holy Fathers rest on Scripture as their ultimate foundation. Scripture portrays the loving Mother of God, almost before our very eyes, as most intimately united with her divine Son and always sharing in his destiny.

Above all, it must be noted that from the second century the holy Fathers present the Virgin Mary as the new Eve, most closely associated with the new Adam, though subject to him in the struggle against the enemy from the nether world. This struggle, as the first promise of a redeemer implies, was to end in perfect victory over sin and death, always linked together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Therefore, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part of this victory and its final trophy, so the struggle shared by the Blessed Virgin and her Son was to end in glorification of her virginal body. As the same Apostle says: When this mortal body has clothed itself in immortality, then will be fulfilled the word of Scripture: Death is swallowed up in victory.

Hence, the august Mother of God, mysteriously united from all eternity with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a virgin inviolate in her divine motherhood, the wholehearted companion of the divine Redeemer who won complete victory over sin and its consequences, gained at last the supreme crown of her privileges—to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and, like her Son, when death had been conquered, to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven, there to sit in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the ages.

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Elizabeth Scalia has beautiful reflections on the feast based in biochemistry and a beautiful reading of the scriptures: Assumption of Mary, Where Science and Theology are Met

Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption. It follows that his mother’s body, which forever contained a cellular component of the Divinity — and a particle of God is God, entire — would not be allowed to corrupt as well, but would be taken into heaven and reunited with Christ. Mary was a created creature and moral. But she was no mere mortal; she could not be, once the particles of God had entered her chemistry.

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  • +JMJ+

    The article about postpartum practices reminds me of the pill that is supposed to suppress a woman’s period (and to some extent, also the birth control pill). Both want to sweep certain physiological realities under the carpet in the name of “equality.” I don’t know how it is with stay-at-home mothers, but I can see why a woman who must compete with men for a promotion or who must prove that she deserved to be promoted over a man would want to rush the recovery period herself.

    More abstractly, I am reminded of a novel I read last June about simple country folk in the Philippines. (It is “A Season of Grace” by N.V.M. Gonzalez.) When one character gives birth, she undergoes many careful healing rituals under the watchful eye of the area’s midwife. But she is not drinking the special broths or observing the period of rest only for the benefits to her health, although of course these are important. The rituals also have a spiritual component, reminding her that pain in childbirth is the consequence which women must bear from the Fall.

    After reading it, I thought about my mother’s generation, which was the first to cast off all such postpartum “superstitions.” While there might have been no direct health benefits from, say, bathing only in water in which guava leaves have been boiled for at least a week, there was certainly something else poured out along with that bathwater!

  • Yes, I think there is a nature-defying tendency at play in both the pill and the need to return to a pre-pregnancy condition as soon as possible. I think it can be just as bad for a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t have a support network. Speaking from my own experience, even with my mom here it’s really easy to get sucked into doing too much just trying to take care of the other kids and the house. I feel lazy, slothful, sitting in bed with the baby while my mom, who isn’t all that young anymore, struggles to try to keep up with all my housework and the kids. And she doesn’t know my systems, she doesn’t know how I cook that dish just so the kids will eat it, how to put things away… all that stuff.

    I do think there were many elements in those “superstitions” and rituals that were helpful in ways we can’t quantify and might not be able to pinpoint. The more I read about the custom of churching a woman after 40 days, the more sense I see in the social custom which confined women and kept them away from church for that period. It wasn’t a shunning so much as a helpful protection for her and the baby. Then to have a formal ceremony to welcome her back, to help her make that difficult transition and to acknowledge that her life has dramatically changed and that she needs spiritual support… all those things we lost. When all the feminists saw was something they thought was designed to marginalize women and keep them down, I see something that had all sorts of wonderful support for women.