Aug. 15, 2017

August 15, 2017: ASSUMPTION OF MARY (Part I)


Rank: Double of the I Class.


(Part I - The details of the Assumption of Mary)


“All generations shall call me blessed”
(St. Luke, i. 48)


Prayer (Collect).
Forgive, O Lord, we beseech thee, the sins of thy people, that we who are not able to do anything of ourselves that can be pleasing to thee, may be assisted in the way of salvation by the prayers of the mother of thy Son. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.


The details of the Assumption of Mary

“Today the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven; rejoice, for she reigns with Christ forever.” (Magnificat Ant. For 2nd Vesp.) 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. (Cant, viii. 5) 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 honour 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 honour 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. “Daughter of Sion, thou art all fair and sweet,” (Magnificat Ant. of 1st Vesp.) 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 odour; and as in the days of spring, flowers of roses surrounded her and lilies of the valley.” (1st Resp. of Matins fr. Cant, v. 12 and Eccli. 1. 8)

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 race, 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 Queen 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. (III Kings, x. 10)

The reception given by David's son to Bethsabee, his mother, in the third Book of Kings, no less happily expresses the mystery of to-day, 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 upon his throne: and a throne was set for the king's mother: and she sat on his right hand. (III Kings, ii. 19) 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 distinguished from him in that he is Son; producing together with him, as one Principle, the Holy Ghost. In the external mission he fulfils 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 giving of the Holy Ghost to every soul. This ineffable union is the foundation of all Mary's greatnesses, which are crowned by to-day's triumph.

“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 honour 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.”

Rupert 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 honour, 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.”

“When the time came for the Blessed Mary to leave this earth, the Apostles were gathered together from all lands; and, having learnt that the hour was at hand, they watched with her. Now the Lord Jesus came with his Angels and received her soul. In the morning the Apostles took up her body and placed it in the tomb. And again the Lord came, and the holy body was taken up in a cloud.”

To this testimony of Gregory of Tours the whole West and East respond, extolling “the solemnity of the blessed night whereon the venerated Virgin made her entry into heaven.” “What a brilliant light pierces the darkness” of this night, says St. John Damascene; and he goes on to describe the assembly of the faithful, eagerly pressing during the sacred night to hear the praises of the Mother of God.

The Bishop of Meaux thus describes this death: “The Most Holy Virgin gave up her soul without pain and without violence into the hands of her Son. It was not necessary for her love to exert itself by any extraordinary emotions. As the slightest shock causes the fully ripe fruit to drop down from the tree, so was this blessed soul culled, to be suddenly transported to heaven; thus the holy Virgin died by a movement of divine love: her soul was carried to heaven on a cloud of sacred desires. Therefore the holy Angels said: Who is she that goeth up ... as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh, and frankincense? (Cant, iii. 6)—a beautiful and excellent comparison admirably explaining the manner of her happy, tranquil death. The fragrant smoke that we see rising up from a composition of perfumes, is not extracted by force, nor propelled by violence: a gentle, tempered heat delicately detaches it and turns it into a subtile vapour which rises of its own accord. Thus was the soul of the holy Virgin separated from her body: the foundations were not shaken by a violent concussion; a divine heat detached it gently from the body and raised it up to its Beloved. (Bossuet, First Sermon on the Assumption)

“For a few hours that sacred body remained in our world, ‘the treasure of the earth, soon to become the wonder of the heavens.’ Who could tell the sentiments of the august persons gathered by our Lord around his Mother, to render her in his name the last duties? An illustrious witness, Denis of Athens, reminded Timothy, who had been there present with him, of the discourses which, coming from hearts filled with the Holy Ghost, rose up as so many hymns to the Almighty goodness, whereby our littleness had been divinized. There was James, the brother of the Lord, and Peter, the leader of the choir, and the Pontiffs of the Sacred College, and all the brethren who had come to contemplate the body which had given us life, and had borne God; above them all, after the Apostles, did Hierotheus distinguish himself; for being ravished far from earth and from himself, he seemed to all like a divine cantor.

“But this assembly of men, in whom reigned the light of God, understood that they must carry out to the end the desires of her, who even in death was still the humblest of creatures. Carried by the Apostles, escorted by the Angels of heaven and the Saints of earth, the virginal body was borne from Sion to the valley of Gethsemani, where so often since that bleeding Agony our Lady had returned either in body or in heart. For a last time ‘Peter joining his venerable hands gazed attentively at the almost divine features of the Mother of our Saviour; his glance, full of faith, sought to discover through the shades of death some rays of the glory wherewith the Queen of heaven was already shining.’ ” John, her adopted son, cast one long, last, sorrowful look upon the Virgin's countenance, so calm and so sweet. The tomb was closed; earth was deprived forever of the sight of which it was unworthy.

More fortunate than men, the Angels, whose gaze could penetrate the marble monument, watched beside the tomb. They continued their songs until, after three days, the most holy soul of the Mother of God came down to take up her sacred body; then leaving the grave, they accompanied her to heaven.

Let us too, then, have our hearts on high! Let us to-day forget our exile to rejoice in Mary's triumph; and let us learn to follow her by the odour of her sweet perfumes.

Taken from: The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806; and
The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901.



Related links:

Part II - A discourse on Assumption of Mary

Part III - Devotional Prayers



Queen assumed into heaven, pray for us.