17 August 2016

Why was she assumed? A Patrimonial answer

Christians have sometimes based a belief in our Lady's Assumption upon her perpetual virginity; or her freedom from actual sin; or her freedom from original sin; or the inseparable physical bond between her and the Son who shared her flesh and blood, her DNA [a point essentially made by Dom Gueranger]; or the unbreakable bond of love that must exist between Mother and Son. All this I agree with. But as I observed yesterday, the reason most consonant with the liturgical traditions of East and West is that she was assumed so that she could be our Intercessor. Sometimes it is considered that the concept of our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces is somehow "extreme" and is a horribly divisive extravagance that any sensible ecumenist (oxymoron?) dreads being defined ex cathedra by some maximalising pope. I disagree. I will make the point by giving a translation of a Secret which was often used in many parts of Europe during this season - including England.

O Lord, may the prayer of the Mother of God commend our offerings before thy merciful kindness; for thou didst translate her from this present Age for this purpose, that (idcirco ... ut) she might confidently (fiducialiter) intercede before thee for our sins.

A considerable Russian theologian, Vladimir Lossky, explained that "freed from the limitations of time, Mary can be the cause of that which is before her; can preside over that which comes  after her. She obtains eternal benefits. It is through her that men and angels receive grace. No gift is received in the Church without the assistance of the Mother of God, who is herself the first-fruits of the glorified Church. Thus, having attained to the limits of becoming, she necessarily watches over the destinies of the Church and of the universe".

Our Lady was assumed that she might be the treasury of God's grace, the Mediatrix of All Graces, the mother whose hands stretch out to bestow. In Newman's majestic words, written while he was still an Anglican: There was a wonder in heaven; a throne was seen, far above all created powers, mediatorial, intercessory; a title archetypical; a crown bright as the morning star; a glory issuing from the Eternal Throne; robes as pure as the heavens; and a sceptre over all ... The vision is found in the Apocalypse, a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.

A well-known Roman Catholic (traditionalist) scholar once said to me that he felt Newman wrote better when he was an Anglican than when he was a Roman Catholic. This passage could stand as evidence. When Newman was beatified, the author of his Anglican writings was beatified too. Nobody is more Patrimonial than Newman.


John F H H said...

Last week I fell to reflecting on the approaching feast.
I recalled how, as a child, I was puzzled how, in the decalogue, duty to God 'got' but four commandments and to neighbour six.

The fifth commandment (Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land the Lord thy God giveth thee) stands out amongst the rest referring to specific neighbours and as a bridge between first four and last five.

It occurred to me that, alongside a literal interpretation, viewed through a Christian lens, it might have fuller meaning. Our Lord bids us call God 'Father'; in the person of the beloved disciple He entrusts us to the care of his Mother; and the apostle Paul reminds us that our true homeland is Jerusalem which is above as here below we journey to the promised land.

Is it too fanciful to see the fifth commandment as a positive command, not only to honour our parents, elders and betters, but also our God and Father and Mary the Mother of God, that our days may be long in the real promised land?


"For what did Jesus love on Earth one half so tenderly as thee?" Fr Faber is - I think - following St Alphonsus here when he argues that the Son of God must have obeyed the commandments perfectly and so honoured his father and his mother

gsk said...

@John F H H: I love it! What an inspired thought!

Stephen said...

Perhaps. Certainly in the East we pray often "Through the prayers of the Theotokos, Save us O Lord."

But.....there is a reason not to go too overboard with the intercessory munificence of Our Lady, and that is because it can, and has, overshadowed another key role which the Theotokos plays in the economy of our salvation. Namely, that as the first fruit, She is the model which all human beings should emulate, because she is completely human. She is the bridge from the world of flesh to the world of the Risen Body of her Son the God-Man. Now we are not divine, and that we are not is used to this day as an excuse to be less than holy. You've heard it."Well, Jesus could do that because He is God. I can't." The life and dormition of Our Lady refutes that impulse to be less that we are, because of her humanity. That is why her role as intercessor must always be in context of her role as archetype to guide our thoughts and actions. The promise is that, though we will never be God as Jesus is, we can participate in His Glory as His Mother does, the degree to which we think and act like the Theotokos. Her role as intercessor helps us along that path.

Cordelio said...

Someone (I wish I could remember who) responding to accusations that Catholics worship the Blessed Virgin Mary, wrote to the effect that, were men able to see Our Lady as she truly is, it is only the Catholic Faith that would prevent them from worshiping her as a god.

The mention of DNA brings to mind an instance of how modern science can serve as an aid to piety. About a decade ago, researchers it Italy discovered that during pregnancy (quite early in pregnancy, in fact) stem cells from the child somehow migrate to the medulla of the mother's brain. This was quite a revolutionary discovery, as it was previously believed that nothing like that could cross the blood brain barrier.

These stem cells - which contain the child's DNA, not the mother's - appear to remain in the mother's brain for the rest of her life. The purpose of this stem cell migration was, at least a decade ago when I read about it, unclear - but it was hypothesized that the stem cells facilitated some kind of signalling between the mother and the baby, perhaps allowing the baby to "tell" the mother's body when it was ready to be born.

While certainly adding to the mystery and grandeur of motherhood in general (to think that mothers of large Catholic families carry the DNA of every one their children within their brain - even children lost before birth), it also further enlightens the meaning of Our Lady's title, "Living Tabernacle of the Most High." After the birth of Our Lord, and even after His Ascension, Our Lady remained his Living Tabernacle in a physical sense, as well as a spiritual one.

Tamquam said...

It seems to me that all mothers are mediatrixes of goods to their children. My mother prepared and served our meals and made us eat our vegetables, gave us our medicine when we were sick, taught us our prayers, put us to bed, explained how the world worked, how we were to conduct ourselves in it and the consequences if we didn't. Should we wonder, then, that Mary, by God's gracious design, should be solicitous of the welfare of those brought to life by the death and resurrection of her only Son?

Simple Simon said...

Legions of priests are orphan boys, bereft of filial love and devotion our Lady. Starved of any proper instruction regarding Mary’s role in our salvation during their seminary years. Discouraged from praying the rosary. Encouraged to always speak ‘ecumenically’ when and if ever they mention our Lady in homilies. Fixated on describing our Lady as ‘Role Model’. Unable to cry from the depths of their heart ‘Mother, my mother, Mary full of grace, full of grace, full of grace’. The writers of ‘Tota Pulchra es Maria’ and ‘I Sing of a Maiden’ and the innumerable saints and theologians of East and West who lived joyously and unashamedly as Mary’s children had a fierce grip on reality. On the reality of what God had done for us through Mary.The reality of the Assumption cannot be pondered on without gaining a deeper understanding of the Paschal mystery. Deo Gratias.

Gregory Pearson OP said...

It was a pleasure to assist at your Mass on Monday, Father. Might I cite the Byzantine Troparion and Kontakion of the feast as evidence from the East for the point you make?

Troparion: In giving birth you preserved your virginity, in falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Mother of God. You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, and by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.

Kontakion: Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Mother of God, who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. For being the Mother of Life, she was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her ever-virginal womb.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the Newman quote. It seems to me that "first fruits of the glorified Church" sums up and clarifies all the thoughts you mention about the reasons given for Our Lady's bodily Assumption.

Ben of the Bayou said...

Dear Sir,

A thought provoking reflection. It might be interesting to read through the Catholic catechetical tradition and see whether reverence for the Name of Mary (and those of the Saints) was ever based on that Commandment.

Speaking of "that" Commandment, please do not consider me too pedantic if I point out that Catholics count it as the fourth, not fifth, Commandment, as evidenced, for example, in the Catechism of the Council of Trent and in the most recent.

Pax et bonum.

GOR said...

I suppose one could adduce many reasons for the Assumption of Our Lady. For me, however, it is simple. Our Lady is the new Eve – the ‘real Eve’ as God meant Eve (and Adam) to be. Adam and Eve disobeyed and as a result “death came into the world”. They died because of their sin.

Our Lady was preserved from sin – even Original Sin – and thus was not ‘subject’ to natural death. Consequently God preserved her from the death common to all other humans. (We can argue separately about Elijah or Enoch…).

Other ‘reasons’ advanced for the Assumption can be attributed to human piety and devotion - but necessarily remain in the mind of God.

Matthew Roth said...

Indeed. The Virgin is the exemplary cause of the Christian life.

Matthew Roth said...

I have mused on this elsewhere…but it is clear the Virgin died, so it leads to questions about death, the original way we would have left this life, and the exact consequences of original sin.

The liturgy supplies the law of faith, which is that Mary’s Assumption led to her being Mediatrix of All Graces in an eternal way; her mediation on earth is clear at Cana.

Matthew Roth said...

I think all of the reasons you list to begin, Father, which are those explicitly shared by Pius XII all point to Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces.

Stephen said...

GOR - to push any differentiation between Our Lady and the rest of humanity such that it serves as a wall separating our humanity from hers is the risk I see by positing a uniqueness about Mary that we can never share or participate in. In eastern iconography, you rarely - if ever - see an icon of Mary without Her Son, to underscore that She is the bridge to Her Son and we have that same promise to participate in Her Son's Glory - to have a glorified body as She did upon her Dormition - by virtue of the fact that She, unlike Her Son, is 100% human and 0% divine. Our path to the God-Man is only through His 100% human Mother.

dunmowflitch said...

The question "Why was Mary assumed?" translates as two questions. One is "As a result of what was Mary assumed?" The other is "For what purpose was Mary assumed". If we put these together as two facets of the same mystery, then all the ground is covered.

Anne said...

Are you saying Father, that anyone that trifles with this essential truth of our Catholic patrimony and Faith is doing us all a grave injustice?

mark wauck said...

"No gift is received in the Church without the assistance of the Mother of God, who is herself the first-fruits of the glorified Church."

I'll freely admit that I'm not at all sure what "first-fruits of the glorified Church" actually means. I'll also freely admit that it makes me a bit uneasy to apply the title "first-fruits" to Mary when Paul applied it to Jesus.

Banshee said...

Re: Mary as first-fruits of the Church - There was not just one first-fruits crop under the Law, but seven. There was also frequent comparison between the first-born son (the womb opener) and the first fruits, but all children were "the fruit of the womb." The Church is often compared in the Fathers to a pregnant woman, bearing Jesus in her womb to the world, and birthing many little Christians inside herself.

So as the proto-Christian, Mary is the first-fruits of the Church's womb, unless you feel like using Christ as the proto-Christian instead (which of course you can).

There's a lot of history and poetry of using Christ as the God-Man as "first" and "best" in everything, but treating Mary as the first and best if you're talking about plain old humans. Both are true simultaneously when the limits of the statements are understood, just as the existence of a women's Olympic event doesn't invalidate the men's gold medalist from being the fastest and strongest overall.

Banshee said...

St. Athanasius, the defender of Christ's divinity and humanity, did not scorn to associate Mary with the "first-fruits" of immortal life:

As translated by Livius (The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries, p. 79-80):

"[He] Who was born of the Virgin is, in truth, King, and the Lord God. And on His account, she who gave Him birth is properly and truly proclaimed Queen, Lady, and Mother of God. And hence it befits us, as we contemplate her and the Incarnate Son born of her, to say: "The queen stood on Thy right hand, in gilded clothing; surrounded with variety"... Not indeed merely in her spiritual simplicity, and as though without flesh and body does she stand, but "clad around" as to her most holy
flesh with incorruption and immortality; and "surrounded with variety" as to her most holy bones, which support her flesh. For it is from her flesh and bones, as though from Adam of yore, that the New Adam formed His Incarnation as a rib for
Himself, which He bears for ever. Hence too it is that the new Eve, called Mother of life, remains "clad around" and girt about with "variety" for the first-fruits of life immortal to all the living.

"And now "hearken, O daughter," to David and Abraham, "and incline thy ear" to our supplication; "forget" not "thy people," nor us who are of "the house of thy Father"... it becomes thee, as being Mother of God, Queen, Lady, and Mistress, for the sake of the King, Lord, God, and Master born of thee, to be mindful of us as thou standest by Him, Who, to us terrible, to thee is pleasant and grants thee all graces...."

Oration on the Annunciation of the Theotokos, 13-14.

This leads pretty naturally from and to the "clothed by the Sun" [of Justice] imagery of Revelation.

mark wauck said...

@ Banshee, I was aware of the possibility of such explanations re "first fruits," with its OT resonances. However ...

Lossky specifies first-fruits of the GLORIFIED church, not simply of the Church. Just as Paul specifies first fruits of the Resurrection. The connection between the "glorified" Church and Jesus as resurrected seems worth exploring.

Re the "Fathers" and tradition. In a comment re another of these Assumption posts I go on a bit about what we mean by "tradition." We need to be clear about the Fathers: they were theologians. What they say is not tradition--even if it was "handed down" in written form to us--unless it can be "hooked" to what was handed down by Jesus to the Apostles to the Church. To my way of thinking, Apostolic Tradition is over by 200 AD at the latest (I'm open to correction, of course). You can read all kinds of things in the "Fathers", many keenly insightful but others under the dubious influence of Platonic thought and still other things that are outlandish or even outrageous. We think of the "Fathers" as "early" or "ancient," but the Patristic Age wasn't early or ancient when viewed from the perspective of the primitive Church--it was multiple hundreds of years later, during which pagan Platonic thought had exercised a growing influence. Interestingly, Jesus had something to say about being called or calling others "father."

Banshee said...

Re: first-fruits as a title for other people besides Christ or Mary, St. Ephrem of Syria was very big on praising infant baptism, and the great holiness of kids who ended up dying young but after Baptism, as even more holy than the martyrs and other saints. In his Nisibis Hymns, 62, 23:

"For your infants and children will come forth first in the resurrection, as the first-fruits; and after them, the just as victors."

The poets and theologians of the Church are big on parrhesia! We make think it is stretching a point, but they thought the broadness of applicability was something to rejoice in, and a praise of Christ's generosity and power. We are co-heirs with Christ, and that's saying quite a lot.

Banshee said...

Sorry for posting so much in your comment box, Father, but it's an important topic and I'm home today....

(Oh, and the Nisibene Hymn translation is Livius, p. 233. Sorry to lean so hard on one old anthology book, but it's awfully handy.)

Anonymous said...

What I take from Newman's phrase that Mary is the "first fruits of the glorified Church" is not that she was the first to rise from the dead. Clearly that is Jesus, as St. Paul affirms. He is our Lord and God who took human nature to himself and redeemed it. But the Church is also the Body not just the Head, and the final reality of the Church will be a physical as well as a spiritual community of human beings who are glorified along with him. Mary is the first fruits of the general resurrection; the first realisation of the final Church of human persons who live in perfect union with him.

No doubt this privilege follows from her unique vocation and unmatched holiness, untouched by Original Sin, but every personal blessing is also a source of blessing for others. She is "full of grace" in every possible way that can be given through Jesus, so from her unique union with him in heaven she is also the supreme distributor of the graces he gives to the rest of the Church. The Church is a family not just a collection of individuals each approaching God separately. And the role we play in that family life of grace depends on how closely our vocations call us to sharing the work of Christ the Head and also how fully we respond to that call. There is no one closer to him than Our Lady and none who have responded as fully.

She is truly Mother of The Church, the first and finest member, the perfect disciple, and the living embodiment of what it means to "be Church" (yes, let's steal that phrase from the liberals!) because in her the heavenly Church has already begun in its most complete expression. Of course, all of her titles and ministries derive from and depend directly on the risen Lord. Everything she knows about her children comes from contemplating the Sacred Heart of her Son. He shares everything with her. So the nature and quality of her intercession is correspondingly higher than any other saint, just as the intercession of the saints whose souls are already perfect in the vision of God is higher and more effective than the prayers of someone on earth, welcome thought those are.

Whether her body died as ours do, perhaps brought on by the stress of the sword that pierced her heart at the crucifixion, or whether she 'fell asleep' as all bodies might have been before the fall before being raised in glory without decay ... no one knows for sure. Her divine Son who was, of course, without Original Sin, went though death himself, so it seems a little strange to me that she alone did not, especially as she spiritually shared his martyrdom too. But I am more than prepared to accept whatever the Church tells me.