Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Monday, August 15, 2005

Assumpta est Maria in Coelum! Alleluia!

"Quae est ista quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgens, pulchra ut luna, electa ut sol, terribilis ut acies ordinata?"
'Who is this arising like the dawn, fair as the moon, resplendent as the sun, formidible as an army set in battle array?' (Song of Songs 6:10)

Today, Holy Mother Church rejoices in her redemption which is ours in Christ. By her bodily Assumption into heaven, Mary leads the way which is destined for all who die in Christ. There, in the company of the angels and saints, she is crowned with glory, the privileged first among the saints to share in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity. Today's celebration and the countless images of Mary being borne aloft by angels and crowned in their company is, as Pope Blessed John XXIII said, "a source of consolation and faith, in days of grief or pain, for those privileged souls - such as we can all become, if only we respond to grace - whom God is silently preparing for the most beautiful victory of all, the attainment of holiness." (Journal of a Soul, 441).

In the Christian life, we have no better model and paragon than Our Blessed Mother, "the Assumpta, [who] stands before us as the firstfruit of the Redemption, and incorporate[s] the perfect features of everything that had to be realized in us and in the whole Church" (Schillebeeckx OP, Mary Mother of the Redemption, 101). By being bodily assumed into heaven, Mary reminds us of the dignity of the body which shall be glorified and share in Christ's resurrection. It was with this in mind that Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady, for after the horrors of the Second World War, which had scant regard for human life and the human body, he wished to reaffirm the "exalted destiny of both our soul and body" (cf Munificentissimus Deus). It is fitting indeed that today also marks the 60th anniversary of the cessation of WWII in the Asia Pacific. Given the circumstances which impelled Pope Pius XII to proclaim the papal bull defining this dogma, they are still very much extant today, for we have seen in the past 55 years a continued decline in regard for the sanctity of human life, moral degradation of the person and a consumerist and utilitarian attitude to the human body and person.

But this dogma is no modern invention of a pope. Indeed, no pope can proclaim a dogma ex nihilo. It has to be part of the living tradition of the Church which he seeks to express in an official form at an expedient time. 1950 was that time, when the Holy Spirit prompted Pius XII to proclaim the dogma of the Assumption but in fact, it was first recorded as a Christian belief in 550 by Theoteknos, bishop of Livias. Only a century later in 650, the feast was celebrated in Rome and decades after that, St John Damascene wrote a beautiful theological reflection on it. Already in the 5th century, the Eastern church celebrated this feast as the 'Dormition of Mary' and throughout the West, churches have depicted Mary being carried up into heaven by angels in her art. Of note is the ceiling boss carved into the medieval choir screen of York Minster. It is noteworthy too that the Tradition has relics and tombs for all the major saints but none for Our Lady. Like her Son, Mary's body has no resting place on earth but is taken up into heaven.

The relationship between the Assumption and the Resurrection of Christ is inseparable. Indeed, as the antiphon quoted above hints at, Mary is fair as the moon because she reflects the glory of the Son, the Sun of Justice and she is resplendant as the sun because throughout her life, no stain of sin obscured the light of divine grace within her. As such, Schillebeeckx says:

"We can, by analogy with Christ's resurrection, conclude from the fact of Mary's resurrection that her life-sacrifice was also fully accepted by God. Her assumption into heaven was not merely a privilege bestowed on her without relation to the rest of her life. It formed the summit of her sublime redemption. Salvation, after all, embraces the whole human being, not only his soul but also his body... Dogma informs us that Mary was not obliged to wait, as we are, until the end of time for physical redemption. This is a clear indication of the unique quality of her sublime state of redemption. It also illuminates the fact of her redemption by exception - that at no moment of her existence did sin cast a shadow over the brightness of her life with God"
(Mary, Mother of the Redemption, 100).

Furthermore, the Assumption is a mark of the power of the Resurrection to transform the world. While we await the full consummation of the Resurrection, Mary already partakes in that as "the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection" (cf Preface for the Assumption). Thus, Jean Danielou SJ was moved to say: "The mystery of the Assumption teaches us that in Mary the transfiguration of the cosmos , the principle of which lies in the Resurrection of Christ, has already begun to produce its effects. The Assumption is the dawn of the new creation whose first rays filter through into the darkness of this world. The divine energy is already at work" (Le Dogme de l'Assomption, pp301-2). This echoes again the Antiphon above which declares Mary as one who arises like the dawn.

For all the Baptised, the Assumption of Mary celebrates that hope which is ours; a hope we profess in the Creed every Sunday: 'Exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum'; or more explicitly in the Apostle's Creed: 'Credo in carnis resurrectionem', "I believe in the resurrection of the body..." And so, Henri Cardinal de Lubac SJ says: "Just as our Lady was the model of Christian hope on the day of the Annunciation, so on the day of her Assumption she became the guarantee of that hope" (The Splendor of the Church, 346). This hope is essentially one of victory over death, hence St Paul's resounding proclamation in today's Second Reading (1 Cor 15:20-17), that Christ has destroyed death. The Church's celebration of Mary's Assumption is a celebration of her faith in this promise and that the final victory over death and evil will be ours just as it is Mary's, when we have been perfected in holiness. Indeed, she goes before us, having overcome the sting of death by Christ's Resurrection, leading the way. As such, the Antiphon above paints an image of Mary (in the figure of Mother Church) as being dressed in battle array, an army victorious over the forces of death.

Finally, "with an unshakeable faith in all that has been revealed in [Mary], the Church is certain of final victory over the forces of evil." Indeed, Mary herself (again in the figure of Mother Church) engages in battle against evil. Thus, the ancient antiphon "Rejoice, Virgin Mary, you alone have vanquished all the heresies in the entire world" holds true, because "all the network of dogmas on the Virgin, seen and integrated in the mystery of salvation and founded in Scripture assures and strengthens the stability of the faith in its struggle against doctrinal deviations" (cf Ignace de la Potterie SJ, Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant, 293). Thus a right and proper faith in Mary and her role in the salvific economy leads to a full and authentic faith in her Son and Saviour, Jesus Christ and His Redeeming work. That is her role, to glorify God, as she herself proclaims in today's Gospel (Lk 1:39-56) and she does so prefectly today by her Assumption. When we honour her memory today and proclaim God's infinite grace working in Mary's life, we too exult in God our Saviour who has worked such marvels for us!

Let us also join ourselves with the million young people gathered around Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate World Youth Day in Cologne. May we all be invigorated to proclaim that Good News and faith, with Mary, to all nations, cultures and peoples.

"O harbinger of day! O hope of the pilgrim! lead us still as thou hast led; in the dark night, across the bleak wilderness, guide us on to our Lord Jesus, guide us home" - John Henry Cardinal Newman.

"Maria, mater gratiæ, Dulcis parens clementiæ, Tu nos ab hoste protege et mortis hora suscipe."
'O Mary, mother of grace, sweet parent of clemency, protect us from our foes and receive us at the hour of our death.'


The photos above of Our Lady being crowned are taken from the hand-illlminated Ushaw College Term Books (19th century) and a liturgical Book of Gospels and Epistles (1864, Ratisbon & NY). The stained glass symbol of the Assumpta is from the Antipolo Shrine in the Philippines.


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