DEATH OF MARY. PART 1
Tranquillity began to return, and the signs of the wrath of heaven had ceased to alarm the Jews, who .had just shed the blood of our Saviour. Like all wild animals, the executioners of Christ had for a moment lost their savage instincts in the hour of peril. Terrified at first at what they had done, they had feared that the tottering rocks of Calvary would crush them in their fall, and that the earth would make them go down alive into the dark depths of sheol ; but this remorse disappeared with their terrors, and they gradually returned to their spiteful and malicious nature, as they saw the heavens become again serene.
Unable to deny the prodigies which an immense number of people had seen with their eyes, and which were attested by the rent sides of the mountains, the tombs scarcely covered over again, and the veil of the temple in tatters, they attributed them to magic, and maintained that this Jesus, so powerful in word and work, was only a son of Belial, who had fascinated the people, and commanded the elements by means of the ineffable name of the God of Israel, which he had stolen by surprise from the Holy of Holies. 1 And the people suffered themselves to be led away by this ridiculous falsehood which their leaders cast before them; for there is no calumnious absurdity which does not find credulous ears to welcome it, and nimble tongues to spread it abroad. Meantime a vigilant guard, chosen from the satellites of the high priest, watched in arms around the tomb; for Jesus had announced that he would rise again on the third day, and the princes of the synagogue pretended to fear that his disciples would take him away during the night.
The third day began to appear, and the east was scarcely tinged with colour, when several women from Galilee, bringing perfumes and aromatic plants, to embalm Jesus after the manner of the kings of Juda, 2 appeared upon the mountain of punishment, pensively making their way towards the garden where the tomb of Christ was. According to tradition, Mary was with these holy women. 3 Her dejected countenance resembled a marble laid prostrate by the stormy wind of adversity; but her look did not express merely sorrow—it depicted expectation. The deicidal city was slumbering, enveloped in the transparent vapours of the morning; the flowers had half opened then-cups laden with dew, the birds were singing in the humid branches of the wild fig-trees, and one would have said that the sun scattered rubies over the blue vault of the firmament ; nature seemed to have put on again, with unusual joy, her brilliant robe of light, and that scenery so grand, and yet so dark and sad, which surrounded Jerusalem, assumed a sweet and cheerful expression which it had never had till then, and which seemed to announce a glorious mystery which it would keep secret.
On a sudden, in the midst of this smiling scene, a shock is felt; the stone which closes the sepulchre rolls over as if moved by some mighty arm; the guards fall down half dead on their faces on the ground ; and the women, who did not desert Jesus upon the cross, turn pale themselves, and fall back, fearful of seeing those frightful prodigies renewed, which accompanied the death of the Son of Man.
But an angel, whose garments equalled in whiteness the mountain snow, and whose gracious countenance shone like lightning, seats himself upon the stone of the sepulchre, and encourages the servants of Jesus Christ. " Fear not you," says a sweet voice, " for I know that ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he is not here, for he is risen as he said. Go and see the place were the Lord was laid." While the pious Galilean women entered with fear into the tomb, and were astonished at the sight of the winding-sheet and bands perfumed with myrrh, which were left at the entrance, the Virgin, whose face shone with accumulated joy, was leaning against an aged olive-tree at some distance. A young man, dressed in the ordinary costume of the people, was conversing with her in a low voice. This young man was the " first born from among the dead," the glorious conqueror of hell, Jesus Christ. 4 No one ever knew what passed at this solemn interview; but we may believe that Mary, whose valiant soul had undergone the greatest possible paroxysm of grief, experienced at that time a degree of joy which we could not feel without dying.
Our Lord, during the forty days which followed his resurrection, frequently appeared to the apostles, and conversed with them of the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the regeneration which would be wrought in men by baptism. Pious authors have supposed that the Virgin was the most favoured in these consoling apparitions, and that in them she experienced a foretaste of the happiness of the elect. The bitter waters of her affliction were changed into fountains of grace, and our Saviour " fed her with the hidden manna which he reserves for those who keep patience according to his word."
At length the hour arrived when the divine decrees recalled Christ to heaven; his mission of redemption was fulfilled, and the apostles, whom his resurrection had folly convinced of his divinity, had received from him the necessary instructions for converting the nations to his admirable gospel.
In the middle of the fortieth day, he went out of Jerusalem with them, and proceeded towards the heights of Bethania. This direction was not taken accidentally: there was that mountain crowned with olive-trees, where our Saviour, withdrawing from the crowd, had often prayed to his father at the hour when the silent moon shone with its opal light upon the leaden waters of the Dead Sea, the green valley of the Jordan, and the giant palm-trees of the plain of Jericho,—distant sites, which seemed to display themselves at her feet. There also was that celebrated garden where Jesus had painfully experienced the first attacks of agony. It was just that his glory should commence in the same places where his generous sufferings had begun, and that those fields, those woods, those shady solitudes, which had so often been witnesses of his meditations and his prayers, should receive the impress of the last steps he took before he reascended to heaven.
Arrived at the summit of that high mountain, whence he could discern a great part of Judea, and salute with a farewell sign the spots which he had made celebrated by his miracles and his death, our Savour stopped in an open space at a short distance from a wood of olive-trees, which spread out their pale foliage to the burning noonday sun. There, after lifting up his hands, still pierced by the nails of the cross, to his heavenly Father, as if to recommend to him his infant Church, he lowered them upon his mother and his disciples, as Jacob had done to the sons of Joseph; then he arose by his own power, and ascended slowly to heaven. This last act of our Saviour put a worthy seal upon his divine mission. During his life, " he went about doing good ;" upon Calvary he prayed for his executioners, and he ascended into heaven blessing the humble friends whom he was leaving behind him upon earth. While he had his hands still stretched out over his prostrate disciples, they saw him enter a white cloud, which took him out of their sight.
The Ascension of our Lord had not that dark and terrifying character which chilled the people with fear in the days of old. The law of Moses had been [proclaimed with the sound of trumpets, the noise of thunder, and ominous flashes of lightning; Elias had been carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot; but the Saviour of the world was gently borne upon a light cloud, with that serene and calm majesty which becomes the genius of the gospel and the touching character of its Author.
The angels, those benevolent spirits who rejoice in the happiness of men, figured also in that scene which unravelled the grand drama of Redemption. Their divine canticles had announced to the shepherds the birth of the kingly Messias ; their voice had proclaimed his resurrection from the dead ; it was fitting that their words should come to confirm his glorious ascension.
As the disciples were steadfastly looking at Jesus ascending into heaven, two men, clothed in white, suddenly appeared, and said to them, " Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven ? This Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven."
The apostles and disciples cast down their eyes, dazzled at the voice of the angels; but did the Virgin cast down hers ? Was it denied to her to see her divine Son majestically take his place at the right hand of Jehovah in the inaccessible light of the saints ? Was she really less favoured than St. Stephen and the beloved disciple ? That is hardly to be presumed. She who had been morally crucified with Jesus upon Calvary deserved to be glorified with him; it was her right: she had dearly paid for it! Yes, Mary was entitled to look with her mortal eyes into that peaceful and blessed region, the entrance of which Jesus had just opened for us by his blood, and where he himself wipes away the tears of the just; 5 then the pearl gates of the heavenly Jerusalem 6 slowly closed upon the victorious God, and the Virgin, separated for a short time from Him whom she loved, found herself alone upon the earth, like a climbing plant uprooted.
Ten days afterwards, we find her again in prayer in the upper room, where she received the Holy Ghost with the apostles.
Mary was the pillar of light which guided the first steps of the infant Church. To her the apostles attributed the numerous ears of corn which they plucked from the rebellious field of the synagogue, to lay them up in the granaries of the Householder. She accepted this tribute in the name of her Son with graceful humility, and she was seen constantly surrounded by the poor, the afflicted, and sinners; for she always loved with a love of predilection those to whom she could do good. The evangelists came to her to seek light; the apostles, unction, courage, constancy; and the afflicted, spiritual consolations ; all left her with benedictions : the Sun of Justice had set on the blood-stained horizon of Golgotha; but the Star of the Sea still reflected its softest rays on the renovated world, and poured benign influence upon the cradle of Christianity.
The Virgin remained at Jerusalem till the terrible persecution, which broke out against the Christians in the year 44 of our Lord, obliged her to depart from it with the apostles. Her adopted son then took her to Ephesus, whither Magdalen would follow her.
1 See Basn., liv. vi. pp. 27 and 28.
2 It is clear that they were going to embalm Jesus in a new way; Nicodemus had already wrapped it up in bandages of myrrh.
3 This is the only passage of the author on which the Translator feels called upon to insert a note. It is contrary to all probability, as well as to the general opinion of spiritual writers, to suppose that the Blessed Mother, who so well knew the approaching resurrection of her divine Son, would have accompanied, and so far encouraged, those who came to embalm him without hope.
4 St. Ambrose, who lived in the fourth century, says that the Virgin was the first who had the happiness to see Jesus risen; and the poet Sedulius, who flourished shortly after St. Ambrose, records this tradition in his verses. They both speak of it as of generally received belief among Christians. The Arab historians have preserved this tradition: Ismae, the son of Ali, relates that Jesus descended from heaven to console Mary his mother, who wept for him. An altar has been erected on the spot where this affecting interview took place.
5 Apocal., cap. xxi. v. 4.
6 Ibid. v.2l.
6 Ibid. v.2l.