|Fourth Repentance||Fifth Repentance|
The Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady
The Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God
A Multitude of Roles
After Adam, every man who has walked on this earth has had a mother. The mysterious, fertile concept of motherhood is therefore inescapable; every human being, in his very blood, yearns for the love of a mother, and longs to understand what it is. But some ideas are too deep to be plunged, and somehow too basic to be understood. I doubt even that mothers understand themselves and their own importance role perfectly. There is such a simple beginning to this concept of motherhood: care. But the way it expands and takes flesh is almost erratic in its variety: a mother is a nurse, a housekeeper, a cook, an engineer, an inventor, a teacher, a disciplinarian, a comforter, and much more. Such is the role of an earthly mother, and her mystery is not one to be taken lightly.
What then are we to make of spiritual motherhood? On the cross, the Lord gave two final assignments to two of his followers: to his beloved disciple, he gave the assignment to be a son to the Virgin Mary; to his mother, he gave the assignment to be the mother of his beloved. She did not give him birth, but she was to be his mother, and in him, the mother of us all, for we are all the beloved disciple of Christ. If the reality of earthly motherhood is beyond our grasp, how can we even begin to understand the spiritual motherhood of our Lady? If an earthly mother is so precious, how much more precious is she who gives birth not to our bodies, but to Christ himself within our souls? The British Jesuit poet G.M. Hopkins writes, in his poem “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe,” of Christ and our Lady:
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.
Because Mary is Christ’s mother, and he is mystically born within the souls of his saints, it is Mary who continues to conceive and bear him spiritually even within our souls. There is no separation in Christ: the Christ born in Bethlehem and the Christ born in our souls is the same Son of Mary.
The Basilica Hymn for the Feast of the Assumption attempts to enumerate the roles given by Christ to our Lady, with some success. It begins with an introduction to its theme:
O mother clothed with light, plead for mercies, on the day of your Assumption, from that Fruit which dawned from your womb, for the assembly that has come to your banquet and extols on the day of your passing, that in unity and perfect love, it may magnify your name and say:
blessed are you, O woman filled with integrity;
blessed are you, O young woman, O spring of modesty;
blessed are you, O Virgin and Lady of Virgins;
blessed are you, O young girl, in whom all women are emulated and blessed;
blessed are you, who, on the day of her assumption, caused a commotion among angels: they came and accompanied your soul in reverence with your resplendent body;
blessed are you who assembled the apostles from every corner, and invited them to your delightful banquet.
This “litany” of names and roles given to our Lady praises her in increasing tones: she is “filled with integrity;” and being filled thus, she overflows as a “spring of modesty,” just as all of those who believe in Christ have “living waters” flowing out of their hearts (John 7:38); even so, as a fruitful virgin, she is the “Lady of Virgins,” allowing virgins on earth who consecrate themselves to the Lord to share in her work of spiritual motherhood; and despite being a young girl when she conceived the Lord, she is a model for all women, young and old.
Two beautiful images given at the end of this litany complement one another. First there is the image of the “commotion of the angels” who marveled to see body and soul of Mary enter heaven. Secondly, there is a reference to a touching episode in eastern Marian hagiography, in which our Lady, laying on her deathbed, asks to see the apostles one last time before her dormition. How sweet must have been the love between the Lord’s mother and his dearest friends! And so, responding to this love, the apostles assemble “from every corner” to bid their earthly farewell to the mother of their Messiah.
The Point of This All
Our Lady is many things, but her ultimate role is to be a pointer to Christ her son, and every authentic devotion to Mary must lead directly to Jesus himself. So is the case with the spirituality of the Church of the East and of our hymn, which returns to the point, the meaning of the whole universe and of salvation history, the Messiah:
Blessed is Christ who honored you, O spring of purity, and brought your soul and your splendidly-clothed body to the land of life and the bedchamber of happiness. Ask him on our behalf for mercies and the forgiveness of debts, that we may be worthy, with you and with the angels, to cry out and say: halleluiah!
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
O Virgin, O holy daughter of David, filled with modesty and dignity: offer pleadings and supplications on behalf of our assembly to the Lord who chose you, that we may be made worthy of the kingdom.