Most readers will know that, until August 1951, the Roman Gospel for the Assumption was S Luke 10: 38-42 (Jesus, Martha, and Mary). The passage originally had Luke 11: 27-28 tacked on at the end; and this combination of pericopes is still used in the Byzantine and Mozarabic Rites as the Gospel for this day (and, indeed, for other Marian festivals).
I suspect an Eastern origin.
I have always taken this to be a reference to Mary as the True Hesychast; the one who Listens quietly to Christ; the perfect Daughter of Israel who Hears YHWH. She is the Mistress and Owner of Mount Athos, the exponent of Hesychia. If one goes through S Luke's Chapters 10-11 looking out for the connections established by the verb akouein (hear) in its enhanced sense of listen obediently, this composite Gospel reads distinctly well.
Gueranger quotes S Bruno of Asti as interpreting thus: Mary, like Martha, 'received' Jesus, and not only into her home but into her womb; and Mary, like Mary, listened silently and pondered.
What I would be interested to know is comments on these passages by Fathers of East or West ... comments which relate either or both parts of the pericope to the Mystery of the Dormition/Assumption, or to her ministry of Intercession.
4 August 2020
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(Comment 1 of 3)
A most interesting assignment you have set us, Father! Not being a patrologist, I can only offer a few liturgical coordinates that I hope might be helpful to readers better informed than I.
The history of the adoption of the four great Marian feasts into the Roman liturgy is thus summarized by Éamonn Ó Carragáin in his Ritual and the Rood (Toronto, 2005), pp. 97–98:
Together with the Annunciation of the Lord, three other Eastern feasts celebrating the role of Mary in the Incarnation were introduced to Rome from Constantinople in the course of the seventh century. First of the four had been the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple (Candlemas) on 2 February, recorded as early as the reign of Pope Honorius (625–38). The next to be introduced was the feast of Mary’s death or Dormition on 15 August, recorded from about 650, the height of the Monothelete crisis: a saint was usually commemorated on the day of their death, and so 15 August was Mary’s feast par excellence, ‘Sollemnitas Sanctae Mariae’. As the belief spread that Mary had not rested in her grave, but that her body had been assumed into heaven, the title of this feast changed rapidly: from ‘Natale Sanctae Mariae’ it soon became ‘Dormitio Sanctae Mariae and, in the course of the eighth century, ‘Assumptio Sanctae Mariae’. The third feast was the Annunciation, celebrated at Rome from perhaps about AD 660. The fourth, and the last to be introduced (from about 670), was the Nativity of the Virgin, her birthday, celebrated on 8 September. These four feasts, reflecting new Eastern devotion, were introduced at different periods into the various basilicas of Rome. At the end of the seventh century, Pope Sergius I (687–701) unified all four into a set of related feasts …. Bede was aware of how Sergius made the feasts into a set, and seems to have recorded all four in his Martyrology. It is therefore probable, though not certain, that Wearmouth-Jarrow celebrated all four feasts during Bede’s lifetime. The evidence that Hexham celebrated the set before Wilfrid’s death in AD 709 is strong though circumstantial.
(Comment 2 of 3)
The Assumption is not provided for in the earliest recoverable form of the Roman Gospel lectionary as reconstructed by Theodor Klauser (his Π series, which he dates to ca. 645). It first appears in Klauser’s Λ series (ca. 740), where the pericope is Luke 10:38–42. In his Σ series (ca. 755), Luke 11:27–28 is added as a Gospel pericope for weekdays following the Assumption (Item euangelium in feriis). The same arrangement (Luke 10:38–42 on the feast, Luke 11:27–28 on following weekdays) is found in Klauser’s Δ series (‘after 750’).
(Comment 3 of 3)
Ó Carragáin (p. 102) offers the following explanation for why the Mary and Martha pericope was felt to be appropriate for the Assumption:
[L]iturgical use could reveal new dramatic and poetic possibilities in scriptural texts.
In the four new Marian feasts, the most striking example of this principle was the gospel of the Dormition of the Virgin on 15 August. It was taken, like the gospels for all four feasts, from St Luke’s gospel (10:38–42). At first sight the choice of lection seems inappropriate and arbitrary:
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her then to help me.’ 41 But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
This lection had already been used for the feast in the Byzantine liturgy. The decisive reason for its use, in the East and then (from the 650s) at Rome, was clearly its final sentence: ‘Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her’. The liturgy used the honour Christ gave to Mary of Bethany, who had chosen not to act as handmaid but to listen to the Lord’s word, as an analogy for the greater honour which, precisely on this feast of her entry into heaven, the Lord gave to his own mother, the handmaid of the Lord whose free choice to bear the Word would cause all generations to call her blessed. This use of the Martha and Mary lection emphasized that the Virgin Mary was ‘blessed among women’: a central theme of all four new feasts.
St Aelred of Rievaulx, in Sermon 19 "For the Assumption of Saint Mary", says:
"The blessed Virgin Mary herself, whose glorious assumption we are celebrating today, was beyond doubt blest because she welcomed the Son of God in body, but she was more blest because she had welcomed him in spirit. I would be a liar if the Lord himself had not said this...
"A certain woman said to our Lord, 'Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts you suckled'. and the Lord said to her: 'Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it'. Therefore, brothers, let us make ready a spiritual castle, and our Lord shall come to us. I dare say that if the Blessed Mary had not prepared this castle within herself, the Lord Jesus would not have entered her womb or her spirit, nor would this Gospel be read on her feast today" (19:4-5)
Aelred ascribes the roles of both Martha and Mary to the Blessed Virgin: "These two activities were perfectly present in the Blessed Mary, our Lady. The fact that she clothed our Lord, that she fed him, that she carried him and fled with him into Egypt - all this pertains to physical activity. But that she 'treasured all these words, pondering them in her heart', that she meditated on his divinity, contemplated his power, and savoured his sweetness - all this pertains to Mary. Accordingly, the Evangelist beautifully says: 'Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listened to his word'."(19:23)
In the following sermon, Aelred says: "Up to this day, brothers, Mary, the blessed mother of God, knew her dearest Son in the flesh....Today, however, she passed from this world and went up to the heavenly kingdom. There she began to contemplate his brightness, power, and divinity, and her joy and her longing were fulfilled. So with good reason could she say: 'I have found him whom my soul loves'. She holds him and she does not let him go". (20:5)
English translation from: AELRED OF RIEVAULX: THE LITURGICAL SERMONS, from the Cistercian Fathers Series: Number 58, available in the UK from Cistercian Publications UK, Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Coalville, Leic. LE67 5UL
In the East, St Theophylact, the 11th-century Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria, wrote an "Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke", in which he says:
"Some have understood 'one thing is needful' to refer, not to food, but to the importance of listening to the teaching....Understand that Martha represents active virtue, while Mary represents divine vision. Action entails distractions and disturbances, but divine vision, having become ruler of the passions - for 'Maria' means 'mistress', she who rules - devotes itself entirely to the contemplation of the divine words and judgements....O reader, if you have the strength, ASCEND to the rank of Mary: become the mistress of your passions, and attain to divine vision....One who is engaged in divine vision shall never be deprived of 'that good part', the vision of God" (conclusion of Chapter Ten).
The Lord "blesses those who keep the word of God, not excluding his mother from that blessing - far from it! - but showing that even she would have received no benefit from giving birth to Him and suckling Him if she did not also possess every virtue" (on Chapter Eleven).
English translation from Volume III in the series: BL. THEOPHYLACT'S EXPLANATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, published by Chrysostom Press, P.O. Box 536, House Springs, Missouri 63051, in 1997.
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