Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Saturday, August 15: Feast of the Assumption

All the other *real* Catholic bloggers wrote about the Feast of the Assumption last Saturday, when that illustrious feast was actually celebrated (and NOT on Sunday, mind you). I, on the other hand, was blogless last Saturday. Once I got blogged, I scheduled my Assumption comments for August 22, one week after the feast. But yard sales, houseguests, and trips to Charlotte (pics coming) kept me from my task.

Now, in a moment of repose, I would like to recall this lovely feast, which I celebrated sans husband while on a trip home to Kansas City. I attended Mass on Saturday at the gorgeous restored parish, Old St. Patrick’s Oratory in KCMO, pictures found here

(At their website you can read about St. Pat’s fascinating history. After many years of near-vacancy and neglect, the parish was recently resurrected as a Latin Mass community with the dedicated support of Bishop Robert Finn. Though I am what one would call a “Mad Trad,” I have a deep and growing respect for the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. I plan to blog about this at some point as I have many strong and more or less well-informed opinions regarding the liturgy.) 

Back to Our Lady of the Assumption:

One of the texts I heard at Mass is found in Revelation 12: 

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the  moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of birth.” And later: “She gave   birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished…

On this Day and with this reading Christians are allowed to witness the ultimate glory of Our Lady, who appears in the heavens as a perfect picture of the Christ-redeemed Church—and indeed of Christ-redeemed Reality. How fitting, how right, that Mary who was with Christ from the beginning—in His conception, birth, agony, death--should be with him in his Resurrection. How right that she should be Assumed, taken up/into the glory of already-redeemed/being-redeemed eternity. 

Mary is Our Lady, our pattern of righteousness who shows us how to be Christ-followers and Christ-bearers through the agony of life and the suffering of a death, which, united with the death of Christ, leads inevitably to the resurrection! In her holy person, Mary shows us this:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will   sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

Before I came into the Church, the mystery of Mary was completely hidden from me. In fact, I considered “Mariolotry” to be one of the main reasons why I could never become a Catholic. 

At Christmas-time in 2005, my soon-to-be-husband (not-yet-Thomas More) gave me a book written by the illustrious Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (recently made Pope Benedict XVI). The book in question is entitled Mary: The Church at the Source. (Purchase via Amazon here.) I opened this book with all the correct Protestant reservations (i.e. “I will not be swayed by the papist wiles! They will not convince me that I should worship a mere woman!”). But when I cracked the cover I found these words:

"We must become a longing for God. The Father’s of the Church say that prayer,             properly understood, is nothing other than becoming a longing for God. In Mary this petition has been granted: she is, as it were, the open vessel of longing, in   which life becomes prayer and prayer becomes life. Saint John wonderfully conveys this process by never mentioning Mary’s name in his Gospel. She no longer has any name except “the Mother of Jesus”. It is as if she had handed over her personal dimension, in order now to be solely at his disposal, and precisely thereby had become a person."

With this simple explaination “a sword pierced my soul.” I suddenly saw Mary as "the whole creation...groaning in the pains of childbirth," as humanity's desire for Christ, as my own hope--full of pain and joy. Could she become my spiritual mother? under her guidance could I make my whole life a prayerThis was what I had been looking for—in the midst of spiritual dryness, in dismay and my vague frustration with churches, pastors, theologies, controversies…in every prayer, in every action, in every denial or assertion: I want to become a longing for God

As I read Balthazar's and Ratzinger's book, Mary took her place in my inchoate theological consciousness: Christ incarnate, with us, with one woman, in her, beside her, before her. Mary participates intimately with the act of incarnation which takes place “not by the conversion of the Godhead into Flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God” (Athenasian Creed). She is what we to must become: with Christ, in Christ, bearing His sorrows, bearing His precious Body in ours, bearing the Church. Mary is nothing but the Theotokos—the God Bearer. Like her we also must become nothing but God-bearers. If Mary posseses any holiness, it is Christ holy in her. If we are holy (sanctified) it is for the same reason. This is why we follow Mary—because she leads us always to her Son.

For this reason Mary can never stand between a man and God. She acts only as a doorway: open to Christ. For, as Bl. John Henry Newman (another Anglican convert!) explains:

…the Catholic Church allows no image of any sort, material or immaterial, no dogmatic symbol, no rite, no sacrament, no Saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, to come between the soul and its Creator. It is face to face, "solus cum solo," in all matters between man and his God. He alone creates; He alone has redeemed; before His awful eyes we go in death; in the vision of Him is our eternal beatitude.

Mary Assumed into Heaven,

Ora Pro Nobis.

Lead us to your Son.

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