- 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 5.
The vessels of the altar that hold the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ may not be touched with unconsecrated hands, and are kept from sacrilege under lock and key. The warning sign, “Hands Off,” holds back the visitor who, in his walk through Mount Vernon, looks respectfully at the desk at which Washington sat, the dishes he used, the clothing he wore. One puts into the secret recesses of a desk, safe from curious and unsympathetic eyes, the letters of a dear one.Modern embalming delays the body’s corruption less effectively than did that of ancient Egypt; but it holds off decay as long as it is in the power of modern science to do so. Our dead are today lowered into safe-like vaults, by which all, save the inevitable internal disintegration, is held at bay.
But comparisons piled on comparisons only serve to prove the same universal human impulse to safeguard things that are precious or sacred or beautiful from the touch of the curious, the corrupt, the sacrilegious, the destroyer.
All that men lack is the power. Our best safes are cracked. Our most skillful embalming fails in the end before the relentless siege of time, or else leaves the once-beautiful body a withered, ugly parchment, wrapped close about ungainly bones. The profaner breaks into the guarded sepulchre of the. Egyptian pharaoh, the tomb of an unknown soldier, or the tabernacle that holds the sacred vessels.
The forces of relentless chemistry cannot be denied their toll of the dead body. Strive as we will, driven on by our universal instinct and desire, we cannot protect from corruption the things we love and cherish most dearly.
CHRIST HAS THE POWER
But Christ has this power, and always had it. Occasionally, as if to recall His power of withholding the devastating effects of death, He guards the body of some saint from decay. Usually it is the body of someone whose life has been extraordinarily pure. When the grave is opened by those interested in his possible canonisation, the body of this virgin saint will be found pliable, fresh, uncontaminated; and, as the Martyrology says so frequently and pleasantly, “breathing a sweet odour.” Knowing this possibility, the Little Flower, with characteristic humility, prayed that her body might be permitted to corrupt. She had her prayer answered.
Christ, however, needed no such minor proofs of His power over death’s corruption. He proved this power beyond the shadow of doubt in His own Resurrection.
There He held back with strong hands the dire and ugly effects of death. He stripped the grave of its horror and its power.
DEATH’S FINAL DEFEAT
In addition, He promised that on Judgment Day, as St. Paul almost shouts in triumph, He will actually sweep aside the effects of death from bodies long since dissolved into dust, and will lift them in resurrection to be reunited to their souls as partners in their eternal destiny.
Heaven reaches its completeness when the body has rejoined its soul. Till then the man is not a complete man; for, made of body and soul, fighting through life with the united powers of body and soul, differentiated from other men, not merely by virtues or intellectual qualities or developed power of will, but by distinctive features of face and figure, by individual sense reactions and memories, he must be in heaven body and soul. Only thus is he complete and adequate and ready for his perfect eternity.
IN ADVANCE FOR HIS MOTHER
Christ can, then, sweep aside the effects of death. For all mankind He will do so when, at the General Judgment, body and soul are reunited in resurrection.
The conclusion from all this seems almost too patent. Christ has the power of withholding the effects of death. He loved His Mother with a perfect love and a devoted gratitude. Could He have failed to withhold the effects of death from her fair body?
He was in heaven, body and soul. His Sacred Heart would cry out, demanding that the most pure body of His Mother share with Him the same beautiful privilege, as she had shared with Him every joy and sorrow of His earthly life.
Loving His Mother, He would love her wholly, body and soul. Wanting her with Him, He would want her completely, just as He had known and loved her in life. The arms of a son, which often ache for the enfolding arms of a mother, in His case need not ache in vain.
THE RESURRECTION IMITATED
So, in what seems a lovely imitation of His own resurrection, we may well be sure that Christ lifted the body of His Mother from her tomb. His power had split the rocks that held Him captive, and rolled away the stone sealed against just such an event. His body, lifeless and cold, suddenly glowed with warmth and vigour and beauty and life, as, each wound a glowing jewel, He rose triumphant over death. From that day Easter lilies, strangely enough unknown to botanists before, bloomed throughout the world.
And for His Mother? Gratefully He did for her, and with even more willingness, though not the same significance and necessity, what He had done for Himself. He repeated in the Assumption a little of the wonder of His Resurrection.
We picture that scene of the reunion of Mary’s body and soul as reverently as it has been pictured in Catholic art, and as inadequately. The body of her who was God’s Mother lies wrapped in the tranquil sleep of a death that has come to find her ready and eager and joyously waiting. Her hands, scarred not as His had been with the cruel bite of the nails, but with her tireless labour for men, are folded upon her soft, maternal breast that never was crossed by so much as a temptation to sin.
Her immaculate heart is stilled and silent. No longer do its beats count the round of her love for Him. Her eyes are closed. They had often grown weary as they watched in prayer or beside His infant cot; they had stung with unshed tears under the Cross; they had been lifted in wordless, uncomplaining weariness during the long years she had awaited death. She is motionless, dead.
Then the unseen, downward sweep that is the resistless rush of angels’ wings in full flight. Mary’s soul, immaculate, radiant in the first happiness of reunion with her Son, stoops to earth and flings itself in incredible ecstasy into the body that had been its beautiful sheath and tireless partner.
Hands unfold and reach out in eager longing for her Son, a longing soon to be fulfilled. Beautiful as she was in life, her face is now transfigured with a beauty that is of heaven;. Without doubt she rises. She lifts her eyes, sees the sealed door of the tomb as penetrable as the air of dawn, and beyond, the open heavens and her waiting Son.
It is Mary, once more in all her loveliness and beauty of body and soul; Mary as Christ had known her, as the Apostles had seen her, as all the poor and weak of Nazareth had found her; Mary, the same, but glowing with a beauty that has no further place on earth.
She passes from the tomb, flowers spring up where the touch of her pure body has vivified the earth. With the happy escort of angels about her, she follows the glorious pathway marked out for her by her Son in His ascension, a pathway from earth, through the confines of space, to the eternal gates swung open in welcome. And lo, she is in His waiting presence!
Did angels in reverence turn aside from that meeting of Mother and Son? Were they reverently silent, as adequately and completely He thanked her for what she had done for Him? Or did their shouts of acclamation to their new Queen rock the battlements of heaven?
That we cannot know. But we may be sure that the very dome of heaven trembled a second later, when Christ, who had promised thrones to the least of His followers, led Mary to the throne reserved for her, and the shouts of the Church Triumphant rang out to acclaim her who was crowned by her Son, with a crown of stars, Queen of Heaven, Sovereign of Earth, Protector of Purgatory.
Perhaps the picture is largely fanciful. But all our pictures of what happens beyond the grave are inadequate, where we can be sure that the reality far outstrips our wildest and most glowing fancies, Human language has its limitations, and, though it may prove the fact of the Assumption, it cannot begin to paint the living reality. No Evangelist dared attempt it. A pen, uninspired and faltering, must struggle vainly with the impossible, but tempting, task.
IMPORTANT TO US
Yet surely, as we have strongly suggested, the Assumption is important to our whole human race. Purity is a difficult virtue. The fascinations of earth bind us with sometimes almost resistless strength to our petty pleasures, our pitiful ambitions, our inadequate friendships, our slightly contemptible attachments.
Never more persistently than today have the delights of earth been offered in substitution for the joys of heaven. To the modern man the considerations of earth are all important; the pursuit of heaven’s vast possibilities is shoved off to a dim convent library, to unread books, to half-empty churches.
Earth and its opportunities are insistently pressing. Its pleasures have never been easier to attain or more persuasive in their appeal to our senses. Purity is laughed at as futile weakness. Other-worldliness is treated as cowardly or stupid.
So Christ was good to us when He lifted up His Mother into heaven, and, through the gates opening for the Assumption, gave us a glimpse of what in measure, shall be the reward of all the good, the pure, the devoted, the other-worldly. His powerful providence seems clearly at work when the Feast of the Assumption and the tradition and doctrine that underlie it take on today a new importance and pressing insistence in the Catholic consciousness.
We needed to be reminded that the triumphant pathway of each pure body will be in time that same pathway that was traversed by Mary as she entered heaven. We needed to be reassured that beyond earth is a world that is the reality of which all earthly glory is the shadow.
Surely it is a beautiful thing that our eyes are lifted by the doctrine of the Assumption from the clamour and persistent insistence that grip our senses and lull our wills, to the sight of the purest of women conquering death, rising above earth, and moving straight into the arms of Christ the King.
If, by the Assumption, Christ rescued His pure Mother from the earth, through the feast and doctrine of the Assumption He gives her back to an earth that needs pure women almost more than anything else.
If He opened heaven to permit His Mother to enter freely and joyfully, He, once more, seems to open heaven that we may glimpse her glory and realise that her glory, in measure, shall be that of all those who serve Him faithfully and well.
For a world sick with a love of self that comes close to self-hatred, and busy with stupid activities and dull pleasures that consume more than they give, God has given us a vision of His Mother crowned with a diadem of stars.
TO MARY, ASSUMED INTO HEAVEN
Mary, Queen of Heaven and Mother of Men, lift our hearts with you in the glory of your Assumption. Raise us above the contaminating touch of impurity. Teach us how small earth becomes when viewed from the battlements of heaven. Make us realise that death is the triumphant gate through which we shall pass to your Son. Make us bear in mind that some day our bodies shall rejoin our souls in the unending bliss of heaven.
And, when our hour of death has come, lead us safely into the presence of Him who is the Hope of our resurrection and the Rewarder of those who have served Him, in imitation of you, His glorious Mother. Amen.