The Mother Of Christ by Father Vassall-Phillips Part 6

After the death of St. Joseph, our Lady was necessarily much alone. It would seem that some of her relations, for example "the brothers and sisters" of our Lord—almost certainly the children of her cousin Mary of Cleophas (Cf. Matt. xiii. 55 with Matt, xxvii. 56 and Mark xv. 40.) —were not seldom in her company; it was, however, made clear that there was no close tie between them, when Christ from the Cross committed His Mother to the filial care not of any relative, but of the Disciple whom He loved.

After the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, the same obscurity exists concerning the life of our Blessed Lady. She was present with the Apostles and other Disciples during the Nine Days' prayer that preceded the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost. After the first Whit Sunday, all that we know of Mary, is that she made her home with St. John. Ephesus and Jerusalem dispute the honour of being the place of her death It is, however, almost certain that our Lady died in the holy city and was buried outside its walls.

Supporters of the opinion that the Blessed Virgin died at Ephesus have quoted a sentence from the letter written in A.D. 431 by the Fathers of the Third General Council to the clergy and faithful of Constantinople. This passage begins as follows: "Nestorius came to the city of Ephesus, in which St. John and the Holy Mother of God ..." That which follows has been lost. It is quite gratuitous to suppose that it ran died, or are buried. Very probably the lost words were: once dwelt. It is generally thought that St. John conducted the Mother of God, for safety's sake, to Ephesus during the persecution that so soon broke out in Judaea against Christians, in which St. Peter was imprisoned and St. James endured martyrdom. That persecution once over, our Lady would naturally have wished to return to Jerusalem, where her Son had suffered and died.

On the other hand, the evidence for the Jerusalem Tradition is very strong. It had long been in possession when first challenged by the claim of Ephesus. The ancient Liturgies all bear witness to its truth. St. Andrew of Crete had weighty authorities behind him when he wrote that our Lady died on Mount Sion, that shortly after her death her holy body was removed by the Apostles to Gethsemane, and placed in a sepulchre situated in the Valley of Josaphat. (Hom, de Dormit. B.V.M., II.) As a consequence of the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, Mary's Tomb was buried beneath the ruins of the city. St. John Damascene, however, writes that in the fifth century Juvenal, then Bishop of Jerusalem, who was at Constantinople on occasion of the Council of Chalcedon, informed the Empress Pulcheria that Mary's sepulchre had been discovered, but that, after an ancient and trustworthy tradition, when the Apostles had opened it the third day after her burial, they found nothing within but the grave clothes, the holy body of the Virgin having already been assumed into Heaven. (St. John Damasc., Hom II., 18. In Dormit B.V.M., P.G., Tom. 96, pp. 747-752. For the Assumption cf. pp. 274-292.)

The traditional site of our Lady's death on Mount Sion is occupied by a church in the possession of Catholics; that of her sepulchre is in the hands of schismatic Greeks.

For the first fifteen years of her life, Mary was being prepared by God for the coming of Christ as her Son. The next thirty years she passed, almost uninterruptedly, in His company, by His side at Bethlehem, in Egypt and at Nazareth. There followed the three years of partial, but not complete, separation during the Public Ministry. According to an opinion mentioned by Father Faber the Blessed Virgin lived another fifteen years after the Ascension. This would give her thirty years in all spent apart from the visible Presence of Christ, to match the thirty years during which Jesus and Mary dwelt under the same roof, and would make her sixty-three years of age at the date of her death. But it is necessary to say plainly that on this subject there is no kind of certainty.

We know only that God detained Mary Most Holy in the land of her exile, after His own departure into Heaven, not only for her yet greater sanctification, but also that she might minister to the needs of the Church still in its infancy. As the pre-elected Mother had cared for Jesus in His weakness when a Babe, so did she watch lovingly over His Mystical Body during its first years of special struggle and difficulty. Our Blessed Lady lived her wondrous life of heavenly contemplation, nourished day by day on the Bread that cometh down from Heaven—yet not for herself did she live, but for Jesus Christ and for the good of redeemed humanity. The Apostles' Queen, the oracle of the Evangelists, the glory of the Priesthood and the inspiration of all Christian virgins, was the comforter of the widows and the afflicted, the refuge of the poor and needy, the support of the tempted, the courage of the Martyrs and of all who were called upon to endure hardship for the Name of her Son. The knowledge that the Mother of God still lived amongst men was, as it were, a fragrant Sacrament—the outward and visible sign of the ineffable Grace that had been conferred upon the world. At length—so soon as the tale of her merits had been completed, and the needs of the Church made it possible, her Divine Son called His Mother to Himself, and Mary dwelt no longer upon the earth.