- The Little Office
- 1 Mirror of Justice
- 2 The Saviour
- 3 The First Years
- 4 In The Temple
- 5 Nazareth
- 6 The Annunciation
- 7 The Visitation
- 8 The Magnificat
- 9 The Benedictus
- 10 Christmas
- 11 The Magi
- 12 At The Manger
- 13 Nunc Dimittis
- 14 The Presentation
- 15 Flight into Egypt
- 16 The Holy Innocents
- 17 Life at Nazareth
- 18 Jesus in the Temple
- 19 Jesus at labour
- 20 Death of St. Joseph
- 21 Baptism Of Jesus
- 22 Jesus In The Desert
- 23 Calling The Apostles
- 24 Marriage at Cana
- 25 Silence Of The Gospel
- 26 Start Of The Passion
- 27 Foot Of The Cross
- 28 Jesus Laid In The Tomb
- 29 Resurrection
- 30 Ascension, Pentecost
- 31 The Assumption
Our Lady’s Assumption, By Daniel A. Lord, S. J. Part 4.
At the gates of the temple built to God by Solomon, in the days before his fall, the people stood in wondering awe. It was the most glorious building they had ever seen; a house worthy of the God they had begged to occupy it. But, as yet, it was only a building, beautiful and aspiring, but unaccepted by Javeh.
Then suddenly a great shout rose from all. Every throat became a joyous trumpet as the glory of God glowed within the temple. The blinding light that was His shadow overwhelmed them with its power and splendour, and Israel knew that God had accepted the temple, and dwelt in it, through the Shekinah, the faint reflection of His glory settling upon the Holy of Holies.
From that moment the temple was no mere building of magnificent dimensions, sweeping lines, and throbbing beauty. It was the chosen habitation of God with men. Within the Holy of Holies, empty except for the memory of God’s momentarily visible acceptance and presence, only the priest might go, and he after the most elaborate purifications. Nothing defiled dared approach God’s home with men.
Unfaithful Israel, in bondage, wept as they thought of the pagan soldiers who had sacked the temple and razed this house of God. Jeremias was only the voice of all Israel lamenting the systematic pillage of God’s temple by a filthy enemy.
The temple that Herod later built, God did not deign to honour with His visible presence. Yet, because it recalled the former temple which God had chosen in reflected glory, the Jews regarded it as too sacred for even the touch of pagan sandal.
The Roman Emperor, contemptuous of the Jews’ fierce protests, placed his standards in the sanctuary sacred to God alone. And Judea groaned in anguish, and then, in futile wrath, rattled its sword.
The Saviour, justly angry, whipped from His Father’s house those, who polluted it with animals and a trade in coins. The Jews, after His death, placed their bodies in death between their temple and the Roman armies intent upon destroying it.
A PURER TEMPLE
No one can fail to admire this noble reverence of the Jews for God’s chosen temple. It is an instinct that Protestantism is quick to understand and approve. Yet there was a far more important temple. Mary’s body was the temple of the living God, not in His vague and reflected glory, but in His most complete and beautiful and reassuring manifestation. There never was a shrine of the Most High comparable in importance to the fair flesh of the Mother of God Incarnate.
We may almost say that the Christian world has shuddered with even more repugnance at the thought of corruption touching the body of Mary than did the Jews when they thought of the contamination and destruction of the ark and their temple. Mary was the ark and the temple of the God of the New Law.
NO TOUCH OF CORRUPTION
Sacrilege is something that appalls even the unbeliever. Yet it would seem little short of sacrilege that the body of Mary, the shrine of God’s divine Son, that lovely first temple of the Saviour, that walking tabernacle that carried the living presence of Christ among men, that fountain from which was drawn Christ’s human nature, should have been left to the cruel corruption of the grave.
Through the gateway of death Mary must go. That was a destiny from which Christ Himself did not shrink. The common fate of all mankind is really not a cruel and terrible thing. It is rather the opening of a barred door, through which men walk from time into eternity. In a moment called death perishable life is transmuted into life without change or ending.
Yet, because to men this gate of death has always seemed black and repelling, Christ walked through it, smiling, so to speak, confidently at us over His shoulder, and holding out a reassuring hand to us who must follow. And He asked His Mother to walk the same common pathway through life’s mysterious ending into heaven’s sure beginning.
That was inevitable, but not really terrible or terrifying.
The corruption, however, that seized upon the body following death was quite a different thing. That was ugly, repellent.
THE PENALTY OF SIN
Adam, still innocent, was to have been translated, body and soul, from paradise to paradise. For him there was to be no death and no consequent corruption. But, once he had sinned his passage out of this life to the next became not a simple process of translation, but the opening of the black gate of death. His penalty was made more terrible by the fact that his soul must leave behind it the body in which he had sinned and must consign that body to the rotting grave.
His body, soiled and contaminated by sin, was to be turned over to its executioners, the worms and their quick, ugly companions of corruption. The filth of sin was to be punished by the filth of the grave. The sinner’s body was to sink back into a state that vividly suggested the corruption of sin that had rotted his soul. Men could not see the soul corrupted by sin; They dared not look upon the sinner’s body as it corrupted in the grave. .
NO GUILT OF SIN
Yet here again Mary’s body was different. It had never been the cause nor the companion of the soul’s sinning. Her soul, Through the Immaculate Conception, had been, from the first, free from the stain even of original sin.
God’s Mother could not be under the dominion of the leader of God’s enemies even for a second. And throughout life her soul grew in perfection of virtue without the slightest, mist of sin blurring its beauty.
Her body matched her soul in sinlessness. Never was it for her the slightest occasion of imperfection. On the contrary, her heart beat only to the tempo of God’s love. Her hands were clasped in prayer or were busy in charity. Her lips uttered such words as delighted God and charmed her fellow-men. Though she herself did not know it, during the years that preceded the Incarnation her body was being prepared by divine grace and her free co-operation for the moment when it would welcome the coming of its Divine Son and Guest.
In preparation for that moment, virginity was her lovely vow. Tireless labour in the temple and, later, in her little home was her occupation. Prayer bent her knees and lifted her eyes as she besought God to speed the coming of the Messias. If she saw herself in any direct relationship to Him, it was as the little handmaiden of His Mother, someone who, she thought, would be far worthier than herself.
Her body matched her soul, and served her soul in all its dreams and high purposes. Neither body nor soul so much as nodded in the direction of evil or fault.
OUT OF HER FLESH
Sinlessness such as this was essential for God’s Mother. The flesh from which was to be drawn the flesh of God Incarnate must be virginal. No slightest deflection towards Satan could draw God’s Mother from His allegiance. If the Saviour’s external appearance was to be fashioned from hers, her eyes, into which He looked with infant and growing love, must be undimmed by any shadow of sin. Her lips that touched His baby lips and taught them the wisdom in which He grew before God and men must be entirely without stain. The lips of Isaias, destined to speak of God, had painfully to be seared with a living coal. The lips of Mary were to speak not only of God, but to God as mother to child.
Her hands that bathed His infant body must be far purer than the water in which she dipped Him: Her body, against which He rested trustingly in infancy, and which He later folded in His manly arms, could not have been in the least soiled by evil. And her senses, unlike the senses of others of our race, since they were destined for so noble a realisation, could not have felt the hot rebellions that torment the senses of the rest of mankind.
So, though death was her destiny, as it was His, still her body had never felt the corruption of sin, and did not deserve to be punished with the corruption that follows the death of the sinner. Satan had had no power over her. Nor should nor could the grave boast this power. Her body had been associated in purest union with her soul. He had conquered the grave and torn from death its sting. By a kind of divine fitness, we may expect that Christ would not relinquish to the ugly contact of the grave the Mother who had held Him in her arms, and about whom He had wrapped all the deep affection of the world’s most perfect Son.
All this seems quite beyond the need of argument. The very decencies demand it. Divine gratitude seems intimately at stake. The devotion of a Son is involved.
For precious relics, the bones of a martyr or the body of an unknown soldier, mankind devises every possible safeguard. They are carefully placed in steel and cement, in the hope of holding corruption at bay. They are honoured by the gifts of grateful men and guarded against profaning hands by watchful priests or pacing sentries.
If this is a thoroughly natural instinct with more or less ungrateful men, we may be sure that Christ, who loved His Mother with the deepest love, and Who had the power of holding back corruption from her body, would do for her what other men try in vain to do for their beloved dead.