Saturday, August 14, 2010

Feast of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world - Matthew 25:34

He showed me [His Mother's] ascend to heaven, the happiness and solemnity with which she was received, and the place where she is...The glory my spirit experienced in seeing so much glory was magnificent. The effects of this favour were great. (St Teresa of Avila, 'Collected Works' 1:353)

That life from above,
That is true life...
Death, be not aloof,
In dying first, may life be,
I die because I do not die
(St Teresa of Avila "Collected Works" 3: 376)

According to apocryphal writings, after the Ascension, or after dispersal of the Apostles, Mary lived between fifteen and twenty-two years in her house in Jerusalem. Three days before her death an angel announces her approaching end. It happened when Mary was coming down the Mount of Olives, when she was met by the Archangel Gabriel, who gace her a palm in token of her triumphal entry into heaven. This was three days before her death. The place is still known as 'et Tamir', the palm Tree, and the ruins of a church were still visible there until 1882. On the third day, when Apostles forewarned, have arrived, a Sunday, Mary dies: Jesus receives her soul which He consigns to Michael. Jesus ordered the burial of Mary in Gethsemane. The Apostles carried the bier, but are attacked by the Jews who wish to snatch the corpse, and who were struck blind (up to this day the site is marked on Mt Sion). Having placed the body in Gethsemane, it was transported to paradise by angels, where it was reunited with the soul. According to some the Assumption took place after three days, and some relate that the reunion of the soul would take place only at the final resurrection. This in short is the early tradition of the Church, as shown in the apocryphal writings which show remarkable harmony in their various versions. It is possible to quote the early Fathers of the Church, but they reflect in great part the early tradition of Jerusalem.

After crossing the Brook of Cedron we have at the foot of the Mount of Olives the Church of the Assumption erected on the tomb that received the mortal remains of the Blessed Virgin. From this tomb she was taken into heaven, for not being subject to the yoke of sin, she bore not the consequences of sin, which are the corruption of flesh. Therefore,
she only went through the tomb but did not delay there; her tomb became the shrine of her glorious Assumption into Heaven. That Mary, at the end of her earthly existence was assumed into heaven was defined as an article of faith on November 1, 1950. Jerusalem Catholics celebrated the definition by a great procession...A first Church was erected by the patriarch Modestus but it was again destroyed, except the little edicule over the Tomb, before the arrival of the Crusaders, who rebuilt it, keeping the form of a lower and upper Church.

The Church was committed to the care of the Benedictines of Cluny, and besides it stood the well-known abbey of the Valley of Josaphat. When Saladin took the city in 1187, he ordered the destruction of the monastery and the upper church, but allowed the lower to remain out of respect for the Mother of Jesus, whom the Moslems hold in veneration. Probably at this time the Moslems excavated in the Byzantine wall of the crypt, to the right of the Tomb, a praying niche (a mihrab). Although few of them formally pray there nowadays, many of them brings offerings candles, oil and incense in fulfillment of vows.

The ruin of the sacred monument would nevertheless have been inevitable, had not the Franciscans entered into possession of the Church in the second half of the 14th century and carried out important restorations. For two centuries the Franciscans had the exclusive and peaceful possession of the Tomb, while the Armenians, the Greeks, the Abyssinians and the Syrians carried out their liturgy on altars within the crypt. With the coming of the Turks, in 1517, began the intrigues of the Greeks and finally in 1757 the Franciscans lost the place completely. This usurpation has never been made good, and today the Church is shared by the Greeks and the Armenians, while the Syrians and the Copts are allowed to celebrate the liturgy within the shrine.
The building today is very badly kept, but beneath all the filth one can recognize its one time beauty in the Crusader and Byzantine structures. The church was completely flooded in 1948 and 1955, and it unexpectedly helped to clean it.

We stand beside the death-bed of Mary: no physical pain torments her, simply the longing to be with her Divine Son is consuming her earthly tenements of flesh. Mary dies without pain as gently as ripe fruit falls from the tree. With St John Damascene we can say: "The Blessed Virgin Mary did not on this day return to dust. For no sinful propensity ever inclined her towards the earth. No, the sentiments of her heart were ever directed upwards towards heaven. Why should she have to taste death from whom was born the true life of all? Still she submits to the general law of death, since it was promulgated by her son. As a daughter of Eve she submits to the ancient decree, as indeed her Son, who is Life Itself, submitted to it. But, inasmuch as she is the Mother of the Living God, she was worthy to be taken up to Him. Eve harkened to the voice of the serpent. the pains of motherhood and of death are therefore her punishment and in the gloomy dungeons of Limbo she is appointed a dwelling. But the Blessed Mother of Christ harkened to the Word of God and then the efficacious might of the Holy Ghost descended upon her.
How could she became the prey of the ravages of death. How could decomposition claim possession of the body in which the life of Our lord was conceived" (Second Seromn of Assumption)."

Excerpts from "Marian Shrines of the Holy Land" by Fr Hoade, 1958 edition