Thursday, August 13, 2009
Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin Mary Theotokos, August 15th
Although probably not unknown in the early Church, the earliest references to the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin Mary appear in the 4th (or possibly late 3rd) century in Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary's Repose), and in the writings of a Bishop Meliton. Some of the Church Fathers believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) was assumed while still alive, others that she was assumed after she had died. Both views are permitted under the infallible definition of Pius XII. St. John of Damascus (d. AD 755) relates a tradition where, during the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), the emperor Marcian and his wife wished to find the body of Mary. He tells how all the apostles had seen her death, but her tomb was empty upon inspection.
Festivals commemorating the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary were common from the 5th century onwards, although the exact dates were never universally fixed. In AD 556 the patriarch of Alexandria, Theodosius, attests to two popular Marian feasts in Egypt: Mary's death (January 16) and Assumption (August 9). Theodosius understood Mary to have died before being assumed, and according to the feast dates in Egypt at the time, she was assumed 206 days after her death. In AD 600, the emperor Mauricius decreed that the Assumption was to be celebrated on August 15. Soon, the Church in Ireland adopted this date, and it was later introduced in Rome. As the cult of Mary grew in the West, there was more pressure for the Catholic Church to define the exact nature of the Assumption. Pope Pius did this in 1950, in terms that are still rather general, and can be accepted by Western Catholics, Eastern Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox.
The Eastern Church teaches that the Virgin Mary died a fully human death before being assumed, and celebrates the feast accordingly. According to various traditions known in the East, St. Thomas was not around when Mary passed away, just as he was absent when Jesus was raised from the dead. Because he was three days late to Mary's funeral, he requested to see Mary's body. However, when her tomb was opened, her body was not found. This is not viewed as a resurrection like her Son's, but as the first fruits of our own bodily resurrection. In one of the most complicated of Christian Hymns (utilizing all 8 tones of the Eastern chanting system) the story of her journeying to heaven is revealed as her funeral procession. The apostles act as her pall-bearers. As she arrives in heaven, she is the first given the task of all the glorified saints, that of praying for us to her Son and our Lord.
Protestants have generally rejected the Assumption of Mary theologically and devotionally, probably because it is not explicitly biblical. Many Reformation denominations (like Anglicanism and Lutheranism) have set aside August 15th as a day commemorating the Blessed Virgin Mary, although without the explicit context of the Assumption. However, the Assumption of Mary is an ancient belief certainly fitting the honor of the one chosen to bear the Son of God. This dogma is solidly within the biblical tradition of holy and unique individuals being taken bodily to heaven (like Elijah and Enoch). She who is "Mother of the Lord," "full of grace," and whom "all generations shall call blessed" is certainly worthy of this honor. Church Father John of Damascus describes the importance of celebrating the Assumption quite well:
Let us then also keep the solemn [Assumption] feast today to honour the joyful departure of God's Mother...Thus, recognizing God's Mother in this Virgin, we celebrate her falling asleep, not proclaiming her as God - far be from us these heathen fables - since we are announcing her death, but recognizing her as the Mother of the Incarnate God...Let us honour her in nocturnal vigil; let us delight in her purity of soul and body, for she next to God surpasses all in purity...Let us show our love for her by compassion and kindness towards the poor...Let our souls rejoice in the Ark of God...With Gabriel, the great archangel, let us exclaim, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Hail, inexhaustible ocean of grace. Hail, sole refuge in grief. Hail, cure of hearts. Hail, through whom death is expelled and life is installed" (Sermon II: On the Assumption).
Prayer From the Festal Menaion
(tone 1) "By the royal command of God,
the divinely inspired apostles are caught up
from over all the world into the clouds on high.
(tone 5) Reaching thy immaculate body,
the source of Life, they salute it with mighty honour.
(tone 2) The highest powers of heaven
stood by with their own Master.
(tone 6) Seized with dread
they accompany thy inviolate body that had held God,
and they went on high before thee, crying, unseen,
to the hierarchies above:
'Lo, the Queen of all, the Maid of God, is nigh.'
(tone 3) Open wide the gates and receive above the world
the Mother of the everlasting Light.
(tone 7) For through her the salvation of all mankind has come.
We have not the strength to look upon her,
and are unable to render honours worthy of her,
(tone 4) for her excellence is past all understanding.
(tone 8) Therefore, O most pure Theotokos,
who livest forever with Thy Son, the King Who brings life,
pray without ceasing that thy newborn people
be guarded on every side and saved from all adverse assault:
for we are under thy protection,
(tone 1) and we bless thee in beauty and light unto all ages."
From the Vespers of the Dormition
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – August 15
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
Ancient Coptic Rite Icon of the Assumption “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 (Cant. 8: 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. Never more 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.
Among the feasts of saints, this is the solemnity of solemnities. “Let the mind of man,” says St. Peter Damian, “be occupied in declaring Her magnificence; let his speech reflect Her majesty. May the Sovereign of the world deign to accept the goodwill of our lips, to aid our insufficiency, to illumine with her own light the sublimity of this day.”
It is no new thing, then, that Mary’s triumph fills the hearts of Christians with enthusiasm. If certain ancient calendars give to this Feast the title of Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we cannot thence conclude that in those times the Feast had no other object than Mary’s holy death; the Greeks, from whom we have the expression, have always included in the solemnity the glorious triumph that followed Her death.
At Rome the Assumption or Dormition of the Holy Mother of God appears in the 7th century to have already been celebrated for an indefinite length of time; nor does it seem to have had any other day than August 15. According to Nicephorus Callistus, the same date was assigned to it for Constantinople by the Emperor Mauritius at the end of the 6th century. The historian notes, at the same time, the origin of several other solemnities, while of the Dormition alone, he does not say that it was established by Mauritius on such a day; hence learned authors have concluded that the Feast itself already existed before the imperial decree was issued, which was thus only intended to put an end to its being celebrated on various days.
At that very time, far away from Byzantium, the Merovingian Franks celebrated the glorification of Our Lady on January 18. However the choice of this day may be accounted for, it is remarkable that the Copts on the borders of the Nile announce on January 28, the repose of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and the Assumption of Her body into Heaven; they, however, repeat the announcement on August 21, and two weeks earlier they, like the Greeks, begin their Lent in honor of the Mother of God.
Some authors think that the Assumption has been kept from apostolic times; but the primitive liturgical documents are silent about it. The hesitation as to the date of its celebration, and the liberty so long allowed with regard to it, seem to point to the spontaneous initiative of divers Churches, owing to some fact attracting attention to the mystery or throwing some light upon it. Of this nature we may reckon the account everywhere spread abroad about the year 451, in which Juvenal of Jerusalem related to the Empress St. Pulcheria and her husband Marcian the history of the tomb which the Apostles had prepared for Our Lady at the foot of Mount Olivet, and which was found empty of its precious deposit. The following words of St. Andrew of Crete in the 7th century show how the solemnity of the Assumption gained ground in consequence of such circumstances. The Saint was born at Damascus, became a monk at Jerusalem, was afterwards Deacon at Constantinople, and lastly Bishop of the celebrated island from which he takes his name; no one then could speak for the East with better authority. “The present solemnity,” he says, “is full of mystery, having for its object to celebrate the day whereon the Mother of God fell asleep; this solemnity is too elevated for any discourse to reach; by some this mystery has not always been celebrated, but now all love and honor it. Silence long preceded speech, but now love divulges the secret. The gift of God must be manifested, not buried; we must show it forth, not as recently discovered, but as having recovered its splendor. Some of those who lived before us knew it but imperfectly; that is no reason for always keeping silence about it; it has not become altogether obscured; let us proclaim it and keep a feast. Today let the inhabitants of Heaven and earth be united, let the joy of Angels and men be one, let every tongue exult and sing Hail to the Mother of God.”
In 1870 an earnest desire was expressed to have the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption defined as a dogma of faith; however, due to the Italian civil war, the Vatican Council was suspended too soon to complete our Lady’s crown. This was accomplished in 1950, by His Holiness, Pope Pius XII.
Posted by padre seraphim at 11:34 AM