Sunday, 15 August 2010

Happy Assumption/Ferragosto!

Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens)Image via WikipediaFerragosto is a special time of the year, when Italians like to simultaneously queue on motorways. I think I read somewhere that this is a Roman tradition (presumably without the motorways), but the Church decided to celebrate the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the same day. I think they may have overestimated common sense levels, because many Italians prefer queuing on the motorway to going to Mass.

Anyway, I thought I'd take this occasion to look at a Marian thingamy. Yesterday (we went to the vigil Mass because it's easier on Monica at the moment) the Church gave us the following first reading:

David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place, which he had prepared for it. And David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites: And the Levites carried the ark of God upon their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brethren as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.

And they brought the ark of God, and set it inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord. - 1 Chr 15:3-4, 15,16;16:1-2

That may not seem a particularly relevant reading for the Assumption, but it is. Mary has long been considered as the new ark of the (new) covenant. The lost ark bore the Ten Words of the law and manna, the bread from heaven. Mary bore the Word made flesh, the Bread of Life which came down through heaven. What's interesting though, is that the connection isn't only the result of the imagination of the early Church, it's also alluded to by St. Luke and St. John.

Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting since the cloud stayed over it and the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling. - Ex 40:35
Now when the priests came out of the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord, and because of the cloud the priests could not stay and perform their duties. - 1 Kgs 8:10-11
When St. Luke narrates the annunciation, he uses the same Greek word used in the Septuagint to describe how Mary will be overshadowed with the glory of God:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. - Lk 1:35
There is a similar series of allusions in the visitation, to 2 Samuel:

David went to Baalah of Judah, from there to bring up the ark of God [...] They transported the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of Abinadab's house which is on the hill. [...] David and the whole house of Israel danced before the Lord with all their might. [...] That day David felt afraid of the Lord. 'How can the ark of the Lord come to be with me?' he said. So David decided not to take the ark of the Lord with him [but] the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom of Gath for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and his whole family. [Bringing the ark up to the city of David,] David danced whirling round before the Lord with all his might. - 2 Sam 6:2-3,5,9-11,14
Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in the womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said 'Of all women you are the most blessed and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?[' ...] Mary stayed with her some three months and then went home. - Lk 1:39-43,56
As far as St. John is concerned:

Then the sanctuary of God in heaven opened, and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it. Then came flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake and violent hail. Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth. [...] The woman was delivered of a boy, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, and the child was taken up to God and to his throne[.] - Rev 11:19-12:2,5
One wonders what the ark of the covenant is doing in heaven anyway. I mean, its been lost for centuries despite the best efforts of the nazis, and in the meantime, the very Word of God has come to earth, tabernacled among us and, having ascended to the Father, sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in temples which are situated in the most unlikely of places – in men.

However, there is a new ark in heaven, and St. John seems to associate it with this woman who can be readily identified with Mary, even if we can also see different interpretations. Obviously there's nothing here saying explicitly ark = woman either, but the way the images run together is telling. St. John has already done the same sort of thing when he writes that one of the elders says "Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah [...] has triumphed, and so he will open the scroll and its seven seals" (Rev 5:5) only to see the seals of the scroll broken by ... a lamb. (Rev 5,6,7,8)

I think it's interesting to see these links because it provides a key to understanding the Marian dogmas, especially her perpetual virginity (as well as the virgin birth) and immaculate conception. It was an appropriate sign of the holiness of Jesus Christ that the womb that bore him bore no other child and that she knew not a man, as it was not permitted for just any man to enter the holy of holies. It was also appropriate that the mother who bore him was free from the stain of sin; the sinless Mother of God was a fit dwelling place for the Son of Man who has conquered sin.

I'd like to recommend Mark Shea's three books "Mary: Mother of the Son" on the subject of all things Marian. Mark was an atheist, then an evangelical, now a Catholic, so he knows how to approach the subject of such a strange-seeming phenomenon as devotion to Mary in a way which is sympathetic to the sceptical.
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Sanchez said...

Thanks for this entry.
I also found an interesting article about the Dormition/Assumption providing a broad perspective on the feast’s history and the various ways it is observed. Worth checking it out:

Mark said...

Thank you for the link. Unfortunately my browser/AV software says it's a security risk (malware), so I haven't looked at it.

Maybe you should give your computer a scan for viruses to be on the safe side. If you didn't know, AVG provides free antivirus software.

Brian said...

I'm tagging you for a Prayer Meme! I guess if you've been done before you get exempted!