Our Lady’s Assumption, By Daniel A. Lord, S. J. Part 2.


This is the beautiful tradition that St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, repeated for the Emperor Marcian as he sat with his fair wife, Pulcheria, among the venerable Fathers of the Council of Chalcedon.
The Emperor bowed his head in quick and approving assent. . That was precisely as it should have been. Why, it could not have been otherwise. He and his Empress looked at each other and smiled their agreement. They rose, and, as they passed through the midst of the Bishops, the last effort had been made, even to so much as consider finding the pure body of God’s Mother upon earth. Eyes sought her gladly and spontaneously in heaven. But the Christians knew that, even were they sure of the place of her tomb, they would find it empty.


The tradition of Mary’s Assumption into heaven is lost in the mists that surround the earliest days of the Church. We find great saints of the Eastern Church preaching on the subject at very early dates. St. Andres of Crete, St. John Damascene, and St. Modestus of Jerusalem talked eloquently of Mary’s Assumption in the seventh and eighth centuries. In the West, by which we mean the Europe of today, St. Gregory of Tours spoke of the Assumption as a universally accepted fact, and he lived during the years 539 to 594.
In the Church, as we very well know, the observance of a feast may often precede the wide discussion of a dogma or doctrine. The Apostles and their immediate successors said Mass from the very beginning. Fragments of the prayers they used have come down to us. But theologians discussed the Mass and even invented the name “Mass” at much later dates. In fact, discussions usually arise only when someone has the temerity to deny something that has long been believed or practised.
At first, men use the holy gifts of God gratefully. They accept His revelations and His truths as beautiful and true. They see no particular reason for discussing or cutting into fine argumentative pieces what is clearly beautiful and an intimate part of their life’s best devotion.


So we find the Christian world keeping the Feast of Mary’s Assumption far back in the days when Christians were more interested in loving God than in writing about Him, in showing devotion to Mary than in analysing the reasons why they did so.
Clear records show that in Palestine, from where St. Juvenal brought his beautiful tradition to the Emperor at the Council of Chalcedon, the Feast of the Assumption was observed with solemnity before the year 500. How long before that it was observed, no one knows. Records were carelessly kept in those days, and what records were written were even more easily lost through persecution and the pillage of barbarians.
We do know, however, that feasts did not easily and quickly come into existence. The faithful reluctantly accepted anything new and strange. So, if a feast was fully and widely celebrated by the year 500, we may be sure that its real origin goes back several centuries.
By the year 600 we know that the Feast of the Assumption was celebrated throughout what is now modern France and large parts of Germany. Interestingly, France accepted the feast from the ancient monks of Egypt; so, in all probability, those grand old Egyptian monks, who loved Mary with the buoyant enthusiasm one finds in children and saints, had kept the Feast of the Assumption through long centuries before.


In fact, every important form of Christianity, schismatic or orthodox, the extensive Greek Catholic Church, quite as much as the Roman Catholic, agreed in admitting the fitness and beauty and truth and antiquity of the belief in Mary’s Assumption by her Son into heaven.
Today, as centuries ago, Roman and Greek Catholics agree in this tradition.
It was left for the Protestants of. the sixteenth century, as their decidedly doubtful privilege, to throw aside the tradition and consign Mary’s body that had tabernacled Christ to the corruption of the grave.
That attitude was not, however, surprising. In fact, it was in part with the whole Protestant revolt. The early Protestant revolutionists, who attacked the Church with any type of weapon at hand, were quite as violent in their attacks upon Mary. The hostility manifested by the sects towards the woman who had loved Christ and served Christ best is something of which modern Protestantism is often deeply ashamed.
By an inconceivable state of mind, the early Protestants demanded that Christ be honoured by dishonouring His Mother.
They claimed that Christ could be raised to new heights by dragging down His Mother to new depths. Protestantism’s rejection of the Assumption was only part of its astonishing rejection of Mary as Mother and Queen. It almost demanded that Christ leave the body of His Mother to worms and the filth of the tomb. Strange, incredible denial of Christ’s grateful heart.