Taking Her Rightful Place
by Thomas A. Droleskey
Our Lady was chosen by God from all eternity to be the Singular Vessel of Devotion through which He would enter human history and assume a perfect human nature with which to redeem us on the wood of the Holy Cross. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity dwelt in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb for nine months after He had been conceived as Man by the power of the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, God the Holy Ghost, at the Annunciation. Our Lady gave birth to her Divine Son painlessly in conditions of utter poverty and anonymity in Bethlehem, wrapping Him Him in swaddling clothes and placed Him in the manger, the feeding trough from which the animals who were stabled in that cave were fed.
The Flesh assumed by Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ from Our Lady, who had been preserved from all stain of Original and Actual Sin at the moment of her own Immaculate Conception in the womb of her own mother, Saint Anne, was as pure as the flesh of an innocent lamb. Indeed, He, the Lamb of God Who takest away the sins of the world, would offer up that pure Flesh to pay back the debt of sin that was owed to Him in His Infinity as God. Our Lady, whose flesh was pure and whose Heart was Immaculate and thus united in a perfect bond of love with the Sacred Heart of her Divine Son, gave spiritual birth to us in great pain as she stood so valiantly at the foot of the Holy Cross, the true manger from which we are fed purely and wholly unto eternity by the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Our Lady beheld the dead Body of her Divine son after He had breathed His last to fulfill the Father's will, thereby cooperating fully in the work of our Redemption as the Co-Redemptrix.
The Divine Redeemer rose from the dead forty hours after He had died. He appeared first to His Most Blessed Mother, who had made possible the work of the Redemption in which she had cooperated fully, and then spent forty days teaching His Apostles before Ascending to the Father's right hand in glory on Ascension Thursday. Our Lady, though separated physically from her Divine Son until her own death, thus experiencing the same separation of soul from body that He had, received Him in Holy Communion at the hands of His priests, especially Saint John the Beloved, until she completed her earthly life, which some sources say occurred at the age of seventy-two. Our Lady's death was a cause for great sadness for Holy Mother Church. It was, however, to be a cause of great joy for the Church as the knowledge of her bodily Assumption into Heaven spread amongst the faithful.
Exactly two hundred years before Pope Pius XII solemnly defined the Doctrine of Our Lady's Bodily Assumption into Heaven, Saint Alphonsus de Liguori devoted a chapter in The Glories of Mary, which was published in 1750, to the privilege accorded Our Lady because of her sinlessness and because of her perfect cooperation in the work of our Redemption. What better day than this glorious feast day, which presages the glorification of our own bodies at the end of time if our souls persist until the point of dying breaths in states of Sanctifying Grace, to examine the wisdom of Saint Alphonsus concerning Our Lady's Assumption body and soul into Heaven?
Death being the punishment of sin, it would seem that the divine Mother all holy, and exempt as she was from its slightest stain should also have been exempt from death, and from encountering the misfortunes to which the children of Adam, infected by the poison of sin, are subject. But God was pleased that Mary should in all things resemble Jesus; and as the Son died, it was becoming that the Mother should also die; because, moreover, He wished to give the just an example of the precious death prepared for them, He willed that even the most Blessed Virgin should die, but by a sweet and happy death. Let us, therefore, now consider how precious was Mary's death: first, on account of the special favours by which it was accompanied; secondly, on account of the manner in which it took place.
First point. There are three things which render death bitter: attachment to the world, remorse for sins, and the uncertainty of salvation. The death of Mary was entirely free from these causes of bitterness, and was accompanied by three special graces, which rendered it precious and joyful. She died as she had lived, entirely detached from the things of the world; she died in the most perfect peace; she died in the certainty of eternal glory.
And in the first place, there can be no doubt that attachment to earthly things renders the death of the worldly bitter and miserable, as the Holy Ghost says: "O death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man who hath peace in his possessions!'' But because the Saints die detached from the things of the world, their death is not bitter, but sweet, lovely, and precious; that is to say, as Saint Bernard remarks, worth purchasing at any price, however great. " Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." Who are they who, being already dead, die? They are those happy souls who pass into eternity already detached, and, so to say, dead to all affection for terrestrial things; and who, like Saint Francis of Assisi, found in God alone all their happiness, and with him could say, ' My God and my all.' But what soul was ever more detached from earthly goods, and more united to God, than the beautiful soul of Mary? She was detached from her parents; for at the age of three years, when children are most attached to them, and stand in the greatest need of their assistance, Mary, with the greatest intrepidity, left them, and went to shut herself up in the temple to attend to God alone. She was detached from riches, contenting herself to be always poor, and supporting herself with the labour of her own hands. She was detached from honours, loving an humble and abject life, though the honours due to a queen were hers, as she was descended from the kings of Israel. The Blessed Virgin herself revealed to Saint Elizabeth of' Hungary, that when her parents left her in the temple, she resolved in her heart to have no father, and to love no other good than God.
Saint John saw Mary represented in that woman, clothed with the sun, who held the moon under her feet. "And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet."4 Interpreters explain the moon to signify the goods of this world, which, like her, are uncertain and changeable. Mary never had these goods in her heart, but always despised them and trampled them under her feet; living in this world as a solitary turtle-dove in a desert, never allowing, her affection to centre itself on any earthly thing; so that of her it was said: "The voice of the turtle is heard in our land." And elsewhere: "Who is she that goeth up by the desert?" Whence the Abbot Rupert says,' Thus didst thou go up by the desert; that is, having a solitary soul' Mary, then, having lived always and in all things detached from the earth, and united to God alone, death was not bitter, but, on the contrary, very sweet and dear to her; since it united her more closely to God in heaven, by an eternal bond.
Secondly. Peace of mind renders the death of the just precious. Sins committed during life are the worms which so cruelly torment and gnaw the hearts of poor dying, sinners, who, about to appear before the Divine tribunal, see themselves at that moment surrounded by their sins, which terrify them, and cry out, according to Saint Bernard, 'We are thy works; we will not abandon thee.' Mary certainly could not be tormented at death by any remorse of conscience, for she was always pure, and always free from the least shade of actual or original sin; so much so, that of her it was said: "Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee." From the moment that she had the use of reason, that is, from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception in the womb of Saint Anne, she began to love God with all her strength, and continued to do so, always advancing more and more throughout her whole life in love and perfection. All her thoughts, desires, and affections were of and for God alone; she never uttered a word, made a movement, cast a glance, or breathed, but for God and His glory; and never departed a step or detached herself for a single moment from the Divine love. Ah, how did all the lovely virtues she had practised during life surround her blessed bed in the happy hour of her death! That faith so constant; that loving confidence in God; that unconquerable patience in the midst of so many sufferings; that humility in the midst of so many privileges; that modesty; that meekness; that tender compassion for souls; that insatiable zeal for the glory of God; and, above all, that most perfect love towards Him, with that entire uniformity to the Divine will: all, in a word, surrounded her, and consoling her, said: 'We are thy works; we will not abandon thee.' Our Lady and Mother, we are all daughters of thy beautiful heart; now that thou art leaving this miserable life, we will not leave thee, we also will go, and be thy eternal accompaniment and honour in Paradise, where, by our means, thou wilt reign as Queen of all men and of all angels.
In the third place, the certainty of eternal salvation renders death sweet. Death is called a passage; for by death we pass from a short to an eternal life. And as the dread of those is indeed great who die in doubt of their salvation, and who approach the solemn moment with well-grounded fear of passing into eternal death; thus, on the other hand, the joy of the Saints is indeed great at the close of life, holding with some security to go and possess God in heaven. A nun of the order of Saint Teresa, when the doctor announced to her her approaching death, was so filled with joy that she exclaimed, ' O, how is it, sir, that you announce to me such welcome news, and demand no fee?' Saint Lawrence Justinian, being at the point of death, and perceiving his servants weeping round him, said: 'Away, away with your tears; this is no time to mourn.' Go elsewhere to weep; if you would remain with me, rejoice, as I rejoice, in seeing the gates of heaven open to me, that I may be united to my God. Thus also a Saint Peter of Alcantara, a Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, and so many other Saints, on hearing that death was at hand, burst forth into exclamations of joy and gladness. And yet they were not certain of being in possession of Divine grace, nor were they secure of their own sanctity, as Mary was. But what joy must the Divine Mother have felt in receiving the news of her approaching death! she who had the fullest certainty of the possession of Divine grace, especially after the Angel Gabriel had assured her that she was full of it, and that she already possessed God. "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee . . . thou hast found grace." And well did she herself know that her heart was continually burning with Divine love; so that, as Bernardine de Bustis says, 'Mary, by a singular privilege granted to no other Saint, loved, and was always actually loving God, in every moment of her life, with such ardour, that Saint Bernard declares, it required a continued miracle to preserve her life in the midst of such flames.
Of Mary it had already been asked in the sacred Canticles, "Who is she that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke, of aromatical spices, of myrrh, and frankincense, and all the powders of the perfumer?" Her entire mortification typified by the myrrh, her fervent prayers signified by the incense, and all her holy virtues, united to her perfect love for God, kindled in her a flame so great that her beautiful soul, wholly devoted to and consumed by Divine love, arose continually to God as a pillar of smoke, breathing forth on every side a most sweet odour. 'Such smoke, nay even such a pillar of smoke,' says the Abbot Rupert, 'hast thou, 0 Blessed Mary, breathed forth a sweet odour to the Most High.' Eustachius expresses it in still stronger terms: 'A pillar of smoke, because burning interiorly as a holocaust with the flame of Divine love, she sent forth a most sweet odour.' As the loving Virgin lived, so did she die. As Divine love gave her life, so did it cause her death; for the Doctors and holy Fathers of the Church generally say she died of no other infirmity than pure love; Saint Ildehonsus says that Mary either ought not to die, or only die of love.
Second Point. But now let us see how her blessed death took place. After the ascension of Jesus Christ, Mary remained on earth to attend to the propagation of the faith. Hence the disciples of our Lord had recourse to her, and she solved their doubts, comforted them in their persecutions, and encouraged them to labour for the Divine glory and the salvation of redeemed souls. She willingly remained on earth, knowing that such was the will of God, for the good of the Church; but she could not but feel the pain of being far from the presence and sight of her beloved Son, who had ascended to heaven. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," said the Redeemer. Where anyone believes his treasure and his happiness to be, there he always holds the love and desires of his heart fixed. If Mary, then, loved no other good than Jesus, He being in heaven, all her desires were in heaven. Taulerus says, that 'Heaven was the cell of the heavenly and most Blessed Virgin Mary; for, being there with all her desires and affections, she made it her continual abode. Her school was eternity for she was always detached and free from temporal possessions. Her teacher was Divine truth; for her whole life was guided by this alone. Her book was the purity of her own conscience, in which she always found occasion to rejoice in the Lord. Her mirror was the Divinity; for she never admitted any representations into her soul but such as were transformed into and clothed with God, that so she might always conform herself to His will. Her ornament was devotion for she attended solely to her interior sanctification, and was always ready to fulfil the Divine commands. Her repose was union with God; for He alone was her treasure and the resting-place of her heart.' The most holy Virgin consoled her loving heart during this painful separation by visiting, as it is related, the holy places of Palestine, where her Son had been during His life. She frequently visited at one time the stable at Bethlehem, where her Son was born; at another the workshop of Nazareth, where her Son had lived so many years poor and despised; now the Garden of Gethsemane, where her Son commenced His Passion; then the Praetorium of Pilate, where He was scourged, and the spot on which He was crowned with thorns; but she visited most frequently the Mount of Calvary, where her Son expired; and the Holy Sepulchre, in which she had finally left Him: thus did the most loving Mother soothe the pains of her cruel exile. But this could not be enough to satisfy her heart, which was unable to find perfect repose in this world. Hence she was continually sending up sighs to her Lord, exclaiming with David: " Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest?" Who will give me wings like a dove, that I may fly to my God, and there find my repose?" As the hart panteth after the fountains of water: so my soul panteth after Thee, my God." As the wounded stag pants for the fountain, so does my soul, wounded by Thy love, O my God, desire and sigh after Thee. Yes, indeed, the sighs of this holy turtle-dove could not but deeply penetrate the heart of her God, who indeed so tenderly loved her. "The voice of the turtle is heard in our land." Wherefore being unwilling to defer any longer the so-much-desired consolation of His beloved, behold, He graciously hears her desire, and calls her to His kingdom.
Cedrenus, Nicephorus, and Metaphrastes, relate that, some days before her death, our Lord sent her the Archangel Gabriel, the same who announced to her that she was that blessed woman chosen to be the Mother of God: ' My Lady and Queen,' said the angel, 'God has already graciously heard thy holy desires, and has sent me to tell thee to prepare thyself to leave the earth; for He wills thee in heaven. Come, then, to take possession of thy kingdom; for I and all its holy inhabitants await and desire thee.' On this happy annunciation, what else could our most humble and most holy Virgin do, but, with the most profound humility, reply in the same words in which she had answered Saint Gabriel when he announced to her that she was to become the Mother of God: " Behold the handmaid of the Lord." Behold, she answered again, the slave of the Lord. He in His pure goodness chose me and made me His Mother; He now calls me to Paradise. I did not deserve that honour, neither do I deserve this. But since He is pleased to show in my person His infinite liberality, behold, I am ready to go where He pleases. " Behold the handmaid of the Lord." May the will of my God and Lord be ever accomplished in me!
After receiving this welcome intelligence she imparted it to Saint John: we may well imagine with what grief and tender feelings he heard the news; he who for so many years had attended upon her as a son, and had enjoyed the heavenly conversation of this most holy Mother. She then once more visited the holy places of Jerusalem, tenderly taking leave of them, and especially of Mount Calvary, where her beloved Son had died. She then retired into her poor cottage, there to prepare for death. During this time the angels did not cease their visits to their beloved Queen, consoling themselves with the thought that they would soon see her crowned in heaven. Many authors asserted that, before her death, the Apostles, and also many disciples who were scattered in different parts of the world, were miraculously assembled in Mary's room, and that when she saw all these her dear children in her presence, she thus addressed them: 'My beloved children, through love for you and to help you my Son left me on this earth. The holy Faith is now spread throughout the world, already the fruit of the Divine seed is grown up; hence my Lord, seeing that my assistance on earth is no longer necessary, and compassionating my grief in being separated from Him, has graciously listened to my desire, to quit this life and to go and see Him in heaven. Do you remain, then, to labour for His glory. If I leave you, my heart remains with you; the great love I bear you I shall carry with me and always preserve. I go to Paradise to pray for you.' Who can form an idea of the tears and lamentations of the holy disciples at this sad announcement, and at the thought that soon they were to be separated from their Mother? All then, weeping, exclaimed, ' Then, O Mary, thou art already about to leave us. It is true that this world is not a place worthy of or fit for thee; and as for us, we are unworthy to enjoy the society of a Mother of God; but, remember, thou art our Mother; hitherto thou hast enlightened us in our doubts; thou hast consoled us in our afflictions; thou hast been our strength in persecutions; and now, how canst thou abandon us, leaving us alone in the midst of so many enemies and so many conflicts, deprived of thy consolation? We have already lost on earth Jesus, our Master and Father, who has ascended into heaven; until now we have found consolation in thee, our Mother; and now, how canst thou also leave us orphans without father or mother, Our own sweet Lady, either remain with us, or take us with thee.' Thus Saint John Damascen writes: 'No, my children' (thus sweetly the loving Queen began to speak), 'this is not according to the will of God; be satisfied to do that which He has decreed for me and for you. To you it yet remains to labour on earth for the glory of your Redeemer, and to make up your eternal crown. I do not leave you to abandon you, but to help you still more in heaven by my intercession with God. Be satisfied. I commend the holy Church to you; I commend redeemed souls to you; let this be my last farewell, and the only remembrance I leave you: execute it if you love me, labour for the good of souls and for the glory of my Son; for one day we shall meet again in Paradise, never more for all eternity to be separated.'
She then begged them to give burial to her body after death; blessed them, and desired Saint John, as Saint John Damascen relates, to give after her death two of her gowns to two virgins who had served her for some time. She then decently composed herself on her poor little bed, where she laid herself to await death, and with it the meeting with the Divine Spouse, who shortly was to come and take her with Him to the kingdom of the blessed. Behold, she already feels in her heart a great joy, the forerunner of the coming of the Bridegroom, which inundates her with an unaccustomed and novel sweetness. The holy Apostles seeing that Mary was already on the point of leaving this world, renewing their tears, all threw themselves on their knees around her bed; some kissed her holy feet, some sought a special blessing from her, some recommended a particular want, and all wept bitterly; for their hearts were pierced with grief at being obliged to separate themselves for the rest of their lives from their beloved Lady. And she, the most loving Mother, compassionated all, and consoled each one; to some promising her patronage, blessing others with particular affection, and encouraging others to the work of the conversion of the world; especially she called Saint Peter to her, and as head of the Church and Vicar of her Son, recommended to him in a particular manner the propagation of the Faith, promising him at the same time her especial protection in heaven. But more particularly did she call Saint John to her, who more than any other was grieved at this moment when he had to part with his holy Mother; and the most gracious Lady, remembering the affection and attention with which this holy disciple had served her during all the years she had remained on earth since the death of her Son, said: 'My own John' (speaking with the greatest tenderness) 'my own John, I thank thee for all the assistance thou hast afforded me; my son, be assured of it, I shall not be ungrateful. If I now leave thee, I go to pray for thee. Remain in peace in this life until we meet again in heaven, where I await thee. Never forget me. In all thy wants call me to thy aid; for I will never forget thee, my beloved son. Son, I bless thee. I leave thee my blessing. Remain in peace. Farewell!'
But already the death of Mary is at hand; divine love, with its vehement and blessed flames, had already almost entirely consumed the vital spirits; the heavenly phoenix is already losing her life in the midst of this fire. Then the host of angels come in choirs to meet her, as if to be ready for the great triumph with which they were to accompany her to Paradise. Mary was indeed consoled at the sight of these holy spirits, but was not fully consoled; for she did not yet see her beloved Jesus, who was the whole love of her heart. Hence she often repeated to the angels who descended to salute her: " I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my Beloved, that you tell Him that I languish with love." Holy angels, O fair citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, you come in choirs kindly to console me; and you all console me with your sweet presence. I thank you; but you do not fully satisfy me, for as yet I do not see my Son coming to console me: go, if you love me, return to Paradise, and on my part tell my Beloved that "I languish with love." Tell Him to come, and to come quickly, for I am dying with the vehemence of my desire to see Him.
But, behold, Jesus is now come to take His Mother to the kingdom of the blessed. It was revealed to Saint Elizabeth that her Son appeared to Mary before she expired with His cross in His hands, to show the special glory He had obtained by the redemption; having, by His death, made acquisition of that great creature, who for all eternity was to honour Him more than all men and angels. Saint John Damascene relates that our Lord Himself gave her the viaticum, saying with tender love, 'Receive, O My Mother, from My hands that same body which thou gavest to Me.' And the Mother, having received with the greatest love that last communion, with her last breath said, 'My Son, into Thy hands do I commend my spirit. I commend to Thee this soul, which from the beginning Thou didst create rich in so many graces, and by a singular privilege didst preserve from the stain of original sin. I commend to Thee my body, from which Thou didst deign to take Thy flesh and blood. I also commend to Thee these my beloved children (speaking of the holy disciples, who surrounded her); they are grieved at my departure. Do Thou, who lovest them more than I do, console them; bless them, and give them strength to do great things for Thy glory.'
The life of Mary being now at its close, the most delicious music, as Saint Jerome relates, was heard in the apartment where she lay; and, according to a revelation of Saint Bridget, the room was also filled with a brilliant light. This sweet music, and the unaccustomed splendour, warned the holy Apostles that Mary was then departing. This caused them again to burst forth in tears and prayers; and raising their hands, with one voice they exclaimed, 'O, Mother, thou already goest to heaven; thou leavest us; give us thy last blessing, and never forget us miserable creatures.' Mary, turning her eyes around upon all, as if to bid them a last farewell, said, 'Adieu, my children; I bless you; fear not, I will never forget you.' And now death came; not indeed clothed in mourning and grief, as it does to others, but adorned with light and gladness. But what do we say? Why speak of death? Let us rather say that Divine love came, and cut the thread of that noble life. And as a light, before going out, gives a last and brighter flash than ever, so did this beautiful creature, on hearing her Son's invitation to follow Him, wrapped in the flames of love, and in the midst of her amorous sighs, give a last sigh of still more ardent love, and breathing forth her soul, expired. Thus was that great soul, that beautiful dove of the Lord, loosened from the bands of this life; thus did she enter into the glory of the blessed, where she is now seated, and will be seated, Queen of Paradise, for all eternity.
Mary, then, has left this world; she is now in heaven. Thence does this compassionate Mother look down upon us who are still in this valley of tears. She pities us, and, if we wish it, promises to help us. Let us always beseech her, by the merits of her blessed death, to obtain us a happy death; and should such be the good pleasure of God, let us beg her to obtain us the grace to die on a Saturday, which is a day dedicated in her honour, or on a day of a novena, or within the octave of one of her feasts; for this she has obtained for so many of her clients, and especially for Saint Stanislaus Kostka, for whom she obtained that he should lie on the feast of her Assumption, as Father Bartoli relates in his life.
During his lifetime this holy youth, who was wholly dedicated to the love of Mary, happened, on the first of August, to hear a sermon preached by Father Peter Canisius, in which, exhorting the novices of the society, he urged them all, with the greatest fervour, to live each day as if it was the last of their lives, and the one on which they were to be presented before God's tribunal. After the sermon Saint Stanislaus told his companions that that advice had been for him, in an especial manner, the voice of God; for that he was to die in the course of that very month. It is evident, from what followed, that he said this either because (loaf had expressly revealed it to him, or at least because He gave him a certain internal presentiment of it. Four days afterwards the blessed youth went with Father Emanuel to Saint Mary Major's. The conversation fell on the approaching feast of the Assumption, and the Saint said, ' Father, I believe that on that day a now Paradise is seen in Paradise, as the glory of the Mother of God, crowned Queen of heaven, and seated so near to our Lord, above all the choirs of angels, is seen. And if as I firmly believe it to be this festival is renewed every year, I hope to see the next.' The glorious martyr St. Lawrence had fallen by lot to Saint Stanislaus as his patron for that month, it being customary in the society thus to draw them. It is said that he wrote a letter to his Mother Mary, in which he begged her to obtain him the favour to be present at her next festival in heaven. On the feast of Saint Lawrence he received the holy Communion, and afterwards entreated the Saint to present his letter to the Divine Mother, and to support his petition with his intercession, that the most Blessed Virgin might graciously accept and grant it. Towards the close of that very day he was seized with fever; and though the attack was slight, he considered that certainly he had obtained the favour asked for. This indeed he joyfully expressed, and with a smiling countenance, on going to bed, said, 'From this bed I shall never rise again.' And speaking to Father Claudius Aquaviva, he added, 'Father, I believe that Saint Lawrence has already obtained me the favour from Mary to be in heaven on the feast of her Assumption.' No one, however, took much notice of his words. On the vigil of the feast his illness still seemed of little consequence, but the Saint assured a brother that he should die that night. 'O brother,' the other answered, 'it would be a greater miracle to die of so slight an illness than to be cured.' Nevertheless in the afternoon he fell into a deathlike swoon; a cold sweat came over him, and he lost all his strength The Superior hastened to him, and Stanislaus entreated him to have him laid on the bare floor, that he might die as a penitent. To satisfy him, this was granted: he was laid on a thin mattress on the ground. He then made his confession, and in the midst of the tears of all present received the Viaticum: I say, of the tears of all present, for when the Divine Sacrament was brought into the room his eyes brightened up with celestial joy, and his whole countenance was inflamed with holy love, so that he seemed like a seraph He also received extreme unction, and in the mean while did nothing but constantly raise his eyes to heaven and lovingly press to his heart an image of Mary. A father asked him to what purpose he kept a rosary in his hand, since he could not use it. He replied, 'It is a consolation to me, for it is something belonging to my Mother.' 'O, how much greater will your consolation be,' added the father, 'when you shortly see her and kiss her hands in heaven!' On hearing this, the Saint, with his countenance all on fire, raised his hands to express his desire soon to be in her presence. His dear Mother then appeared to him, as he himself told those who surrounded him; and shortly afterwards, at the dawn of day on the fifteenth of August, with his eyes fixed on heaven, he expired like a saint, without the slightest struggle; so much so, that it was only on presenting him the image of the Blessed Virgin, and seeing that made no movement towards it, that it was perceived that he was already gone to kiss the feet of his beloved Queen in Paradise.
O most sweet Lady and our Mother, thou hast already left the earth and reached thy kingdom, where, as Queen, thou art enthroned above all the choirs of angels, as the Church sings: "She is exalted above the choirs of angels in the celestial kingdom' We well know that we sinners are not worthy to possess thee in this valley of darkness; but we also know that thou, in thy greatness, hast never forgotten us miserable creatures, and that by being exalted to such great glory thou hast never lost compassion for us poor children of Adam; nay, even that it is increased in thee. From the high throne, then, to which thou art exalted, turn, O Mary, thy compassionate eyes upon us, and pity us. Remember, also, that in leaving this world thou didst promise not to forget us. Look at us and succour us. See in the midst of what tempests and dangers we constantly are, and shall be until the end of our lives. By the merits of thy happy death obtain us holy perseverance in the Divine friendship, that we may finally quit this life in God's grace; and thus we also shall one day come to kiss thy feet in Paradise, and unite with the blessed spirits in praising thee and singing thy glories as thou deserves." Amen. (Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, pp. 371-387.)
Our Lady's bodily Assumption into Heaven on this day should inspire each one of us to seek out her maternal intercession more and more fully in our daily lives. The saints have taught us clearly that we cannot get to Heaven without Our Lady's help. Saint Louis de Montfort noted this in his True Devotion to Mary:
The pious and learned Jesuit, Suarez, Justus Lipsius, a devout and erudite theologian of Louvain, and many others have proved incontestably that devotion to our Blessed Lady is necessary to attain salvation. This they show from the teaching of the Fathers, notably St. Augustine, St. Ephrem, deacon of Edessa, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Germanus of Constantinople, St. John Damascene, St. Anselm, St. Bernard, St. Bernardine, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure. Even according to Oecolampadius and other heretics, lack of esteem and love for the Virgin Mary is an infallible sign of God's disapproval. On the other hand, to be entirely and genuinely devoted to her is a sure sign of God's approval."
Our goal in life must be to aspire to have the highest place in Heaven next to that of Our Lady herself. The extent to which any soul in Heaven enjoys the glories of the Beatific Vision and sees the full radiance of Our Lady depends upon the extent to which that soul had sought to abhor sin and had sought to eradicate it from his life by cooperating with the graces that flowed out to him through Our Lady's most loving hands. Each us must be intent on living a life of reparation for his own sins and those of the whole world as Our Lady told Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia was so vitally necessary for her children to do. Our Lady was preserved from the stain of sin in her own body and soul. She suffered the effects of our sins, however, by participating fully in the Redemptive Act of her Divine Son. To have the highest place in Heaven possible next to that of Our Lady, we must take seriously the necessity of abhorring all contact with sin and recognize how much we caused her Divine Son and herself to suffer as we were re-created on the wood of the Holy Cross. We must vow to grieve Our Lady no more by our sins and our sloth and our poor acts of love that we render unto her.
Pope Pius XII wrote the following in Munificentissimus Deus, November 1, 1900, as he defined solemnly the doctrine of Our Lady's Assumption body and soul into Heaven, explaining the weight of Catholic teaching that had long defended the doctrine even though it had not been defined formally until he, Pope Pius XII, declared it infallibly nearly sixty-two years ago now:
33. In the fifteenth century, during a later period of scholastic theology,
St. Bernardine of Siena collected and diligently evaluated all that the medieval
theologians had said and taught on this question. He was not content with
setting down the principal considerations which these writers of an earlier day
had already expressed, but he added others of his own. The likeness between
God's Mother and her divine Son, in the way of the nobility and dignity of body
and of soul-a likeness that forbids us to think of the heavenly Queen as being
separated from the heavenly King makes it entirely imperative that Mary "should
be only where Christ is." Moreover, it is reasonable and fitting that not
only the soul and body of a man, but also the soul and body of a woman should
have obtained heavenly glory. Finally, since the Church has never looked for the
bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the
people, we have a proof on the order of a sensible experience.
34. The above-mentioned teachings of the holy Fathers and of the Doctors have
been in common use during more recent times. Gathering together the testimonies
of the Christians of earlier days, St. Robert Bellarmine exclaimed: "And who, I
ask, could believe that the ark of holiness, the dwelling place of the Word of
God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin? My soul is filled
with horror at the thought that this virginal flesh which had begotten God, had
brought him into the world, had nourished and carried him, could have been
turned into ashes or given over to be food for worms."
35. In like manner St. Francis of Sales, after asserting that it is wrong to
doubt that Jesus Christ has himself observed, in the most perfect way, the
divine commandment by which children are ordered to honor their parents, asks
this question: "What son would not bring his mother back to life and would not
bring her into paradise after her death if he could?" And St. Alphonsus
writes that "Jesus did not wish to have the body of Mary corrupted after death,
since it would have redounded to his own dishonor to have her virginal flesh,
from which he himself had assumed flesh, reduced to dust."
36. Once the mystery which is commemorated in this feast had been placed in
its proper light, there were not lacking teachers who, instead of dealing with
the theological reasonings that show why it is fitting and right to believe the
bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, chose to focus their
mind and attention on the faith of the Church itself, which is the Mystical Body
of Christ without stain or wrinkle and is called by the Apostle "the pillar
and ground of truth." Relying on this common faith, they considered the
teaching opposed to the doctrine of our Lady's Assumption as temerarious, if not
heretical. Thus, like not a few others, St. Peter Canisius, after he had
declared that the very word "assumption" signifies the glorification, not only
of the soul but also of the body, and that the Church has venerated and has
solemnly celebrated this mystery of Mary's Assumption for many centuries, adds
these words of warning: "This teaching has already been accepted for some
centuries, it has been held as certain in the minds of the pious people, and it
has been taught to the entire Church in such a way that those who deny that
Mary's body has been assumed into heaven are not to be listened to patiently but
are everywhere to be denounced as over-contentious or rash men, and as imbued
with a spirit that is heretical rather than Catholic." (Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, November 1, 1950.)
Today's Feast of Our Lady's Assumption ought to be a major national holiday in all of the countries of the world. Our Lady is the Queen of Heaven and of Earth. Her Divine Son is meant to be honored as the King of all men and of all nations. Each country, without exception, is meant to be confessionally Catholic, thus giving God His due and affording men an opportunity to fulfill the duties of their states-in-life with a view to their eternal destiny, all aspects of national life being referred to our First Cause and our Last End. What redounds to Christ the King is to be given to the Queen Mother, that is, public honor and recognition, especially through her Most Holy Rosary and public processions and pilgrimages in her honor. No man can get to Heaven without Our Lady. No country serves God truly except by means of giving public honor to His Most Blessed Mother. God will never truly bless any country that does not honor His Most Blessed Mother, Assumed body and soul into Heaven on this very day.
Orestes Brownson's essay,
Moral and Social Influence of Devotion to Mary, speaks of this exact point. No society is "civilized" unless it refers all of its actions to the Mother of God, she who was assumed body and soul into Heaven:
The whole order of Christian civilization is founded on humility, and on respect for the humble and compassion for the poor and friendless, the needy and the helpless. The Greek and Roman civilization was founded on pride, on respect for the successful, and favored only the favorites of fortune. We find in those proud republics before the coming of our Lord no respect for the poor, no provision made for the needy, no sympathy for the slave. They whom fortune favored not were regarded as cursed by the gods, whom it would be impious to relieve or to compassionate. The Greeks despised the poor and treated their slaves with gross inhumanity. The Romans were no better. The God they worshipped was force. What they honored was success, and no maxim did they more scrupulously observe than the . Nothing could exceed, not even in their fabled gods, the atrocious cruelty of the refined and highly cultivated Romans in the republic and in the empire down to the final triumph of Christianity in the empire. The cruelties still practiced in the so-called barbarous ages were continued from the empire, and not introduced, as is sometimes pretended, by the conquering barbarians. Goth, Frank, Vandal, Hun could teach the gas-Empire nothing on the score of cruelty and inhumanity. There was nothing to learn from barbarians, in the way of cruelty, ferocity, pride, contempt for the lowly, the poor, the unfortunate, by a people who found a capital amusement in gladiatorial shows, and in their theatres dedicated to the gods, required the players to exhibit the vices and crimes represented in the play, in all their naked, disgusting, and horrible reality. It is not till we go back to the heathen nations and make ourselves acquainted with their manners, customs, usages, laws, and religion in their real deformity prior to their conversion, that we can in any degree appreciate the immense change, especially in regard to humility, respect for the lowly, sympathy for the unfortunate, and commiseration for the slave, wrought by that conversion, or the salutary influence of the worship of the virtues of Mary.
In honoring Mary as the mother of God we honor maternity elevated to its highest possible dignity. "Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and blessed are the peps that gave thee suck." "Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it." Maternity is not all in bearing and nursing a child, nor is that after all the highest and most blessed function of the mother. It is not by a figure of speech only that we speak of spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers. Spiritual paternity or maternity is as real in the order of regeneration as is natural paternity or maternity in the order of generation. The Jews honored maternity, because they held that he who was to come was to be born of woman, as we believe that he who was to come has come and has been born of woman,-of her whom we honor as the Blessed Virgin. The Jews honored as Christians honor maternity in view of the Messiah, for they held the same faith that we do. But among the heathen maternity can hardly be said to have been honored at all, and the mother was prized only in proportion to the number of children, especially of male children, she bore to her lord. Nowhere in ancient or modern heathendom do we find maternity regarded as a holy function, or any conception of its deep spiritual significance Motherhood had hardly any rights of its own, even with free mothers, and none at all with slave moth
It is mainly to the low estimate in which maternity is held among the heathen that we must attribute in both ancient and modern times the prevalence of child-murder, or the exposure of children, as in China, India, and perhaps in all nations on which the light of the Gospel sheds no ray. In ancient Sparta the law ordered all malformed children to be put to death as soon as born, and in Rome the mother had no rights over her new-born child, and the nurse must wait the word of the father to know whether the babe just born is to live or to be strangled. If the father refuses to own it and to say let it live, it cannot be reared. The father can slay the child with his own hand or with the hand of his slave before the mother's eyes without her having any right to complain, or the law any right to intervene. If the mother herself had any proper respect for the sacredness and dignity of motherhood she could never destroy her own offspring, and infanticide by the hands of the mother or with her knowledge and consent would be an unheard-of crime. If again, the father or society had any due appreciation of the greatness and sacredness of motherhood, the practice of child-murder could never be tolerated, or even connived at. Not only did the low estimate in which maternity was held, an estimate that placed it little above a mere animal function lead to the toleration or authorization of child-murder, but it tended to degrade womanhood, and to make woman herself a mere accomplice with man in pleasure or ambition.
Under Christianity this estimate is corrected, and motherhood, as a necessary consequence of elevating marriage to a sacrament, is elevated in some sense to the spiritual order, and made a holy function. Woman herself is elevated, ceases to be a mere drudge, or an article of luxury. She is a person, not a chattel, has her own personal existence, rights, and duties. If a wife, she is indeed under obedience to her husband, but the obedience of a person morally free, not the obedience of a slave. If the rights of the father are paramount, they are not exclusive, and the rights of the mother are recognized, and in some cases even supersede those of the father. Under this Christian view of woman and motherhood infanticide and the exposure of children ceased in the nations that became, and just in proportion as they became and remained Christian.
In general terms this change in regard to the estimate in which maternity is held is of course due to Christianity, but it is more particularly due to that element in Christian worship which we call devotion to Mary, the virgin mother of God. In her motherhood was invested with a significance, a sacredness, a dignity, an awe even, never before conceived of as belonging to it. When God himself condescends to be born of woman, and woman becomes the mother of him who is the Creator of heaven and earth, and the Redeemer and Saviour of mankind, motherhood becomes almost a divine function, and something to be treated with reverence and awe, for not only did Mary bring forth him who is Christ the Lord, but every human mother brings forth a child destined, if true to the law of his Maker, to be one with Christ, one with God, and a real partaker of the divine nature. Satan lied in the sense he intended to be understood, when, in tempting Eve, he said, "Ye shall be as gods; "yet his promise was lees than the truth, below the real destiny to which every human soul may aspire, for God became man that man might become God, and the glorified saints partake not only of the human nature assumed, but of the divine nature itself,-are made, as Saint Peter says, .
Certainly I do not pretend that man ever becomes the Divinity or a divine person. The glorified soul is still a creature, and creature always will be; but it has all of the divine that is communicable, and is joined to God by unity of nature as well as by union of will and affection. The mystery of human destiny through the Incarnation is too great for our comprehension; we cannot conceive what will be the greatness and dignity of man when glorified. "Beloved," says the Apostle John, "now are we the sons of God, and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be; we know that when he shall appear we shall be like to him, for we shall see him as he is." (I John, iii, 2.)
Now in estimating the greatness and dignity of the mother we have regard to the Son. All nations call Mary blessed, because he whom she brought forth was the only begotten Son of God, and for a like reason to that for which we honor maternity in her, should we honor it, though of course in an inferior degree, in every human mother. Every human mother may chant with Mary: "My soul cloth magnify the Lord. * * * For he that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is his name." It IB a great and sacred thing to be the mother of a child, if we look to the destiny to which every child may aspire. The mother who feels it, feels the sacredness of her relation as mother, the high duty it imposes, and studies diligently to train up her child in the fear of the Lord, in sole reference to his lofty destiny. This estimate of her own dignity and sacred function, reacts on the father, and compels him to think seriously on his relation and solemn duties and responsibilities as father, for more is exacted of him than even of the mother.
Now, devotion to Mary, the honor we pay in her to motherhood, brings all these great and solemn truths home to our winds, and our hearts. We are led to reflect on the great mysteries of the Incarnation, regeneration and glorification, and thence on the awful dignity of motherhood, the sacredness and worth of every child born of woman, and the obligation to reverence the mother, to provide for the child's present and future welfare, and to conform society itself, so far as may be, to the virtues honored in the maternity of Mary. From this it is easy to see that devotion . . .
According to my reading of history, the epochs in which faith is the strongest, piety the most robust, and the church wins her grandest victories, whether in individuals or in nations, are precisely those in which devotion to our Lady, or the worship of her virtue, is the most diffused, the most vigorous and flourishing; and the epochs in which faith seems to be obscured, and to grow weak and sickly, and the church is the most harassed and suffers her greatest losses, are precisely the epochs in which this devotion is the most languid and feeble. All the great saints have been no less remarkable for their tender and assiduous devotion to Mary than for their manly virtues and heroic sanctity, and I suspect that most of us could bear witness, if we would, that the least unsatisfactory portions of our own lives have been precisely those in which we were the most diligent and fervent in our devotion to the mother of God. I claim, then, for devotion to our Lady a full share of influence in rendering Christian society so much superior in all the virtues to the polished but corrupt society of pagan Greece and Rome. As with the pagans the worship of the impure gods of their mythologies could not fail to corrupt the worshippers, so with Christians the worship of the purity and sanctity of the mother of God has not failed to purify and render holy those who in sincerity, earnestness, and simplicity of heart were careful to practice it.
I might tale up other virtues of Mary, for she is a Casket of Jewels, and show in like manner how through devotion to Mary they have entered into Christian society and formed its manners and morals; but this every reader can easily do for himself. I have laid down and illustrated the principle, and though I have said not all, rather the least that could be said, I have said enough to show that the influence of this devotion hag been and must have been great and salutary on individual and domestic manners and morals, and in elevating and advancing general society.
But I should be wanting to my own faith, and do far less honor to our Lady than I would, if I stopped here, and limited the effects of devotion, to the natural influence of her example. This influence is great, and we cannot hold intimate, loving, and reverent intercourse with the wise, the great, and the good, without assimilating something to our own minds, hearts, and life. Meditation on the humility, the maternity, the virginity, the immaculate purity of the Virgin of virgins, Mother most pure, Mother most chaste, Mother undefiled, cannot fail to give us something of those virtues so characteristic of her, and of our holy religion; but I do not believe that meditation on her virtues could alone suffice to produce and sustain the effects I have adduced, any more than the simple example of our Lord himself could have sufficed to redeem the world, and elevate souls to union with God. All the peculiarly Christian virtues are in the order of regeneration, as is Christianity itself, though presupposing, as does regeneration, the order of generation, and therefore are impossible without grace or supernatural assistance. Pelagianism, even Semi-Pelagianism, is a heresy, and little would devotion to Mary in reality effect, if we were to leave out all consideration of the supernatural assistance which she obtains for her clients, by her all-powerful intercession with her divine Son. Even faith alone in the mysteries and teachings of the Gospel could not suffice; for the devils believe and tremble, and yet are none the less devils. Most of us know and believe much better than we do. We see, and approve the better, and follow the worse:
Video meliora proboque Deteriora sequor.
What we most need is not amply instruction or precept, but strength. We are weak, and our appetites, passions, propensities, are too strong for us, and enslave us. We feel ourselves sinking; the waves are closing over us, and in fear and agony we cry out: "Lord, save us, we perish!" "Holy Mother of God pray for us, or we are lost!" (Orestes Brownson, Moral and Social Influence of Devotion to Mary.)
Orestes Brownson was not alone in his efforts to have Our Lady honored publicly. Within forty years after Brownson's death in 1876, Father Maximilian Kolbe was about to devote his entire priestly life to the promotion of the building up of the City of Mary Immaculate, founding the Knights of the Immaculata in 1917 to
"to convert sinners, heretics, and especially Masons, and to sanctify all under the patronage and through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary." His apostolate included the publication of twelve different journals, including one in Japan, to promote total consecration to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. He opposed all forms of naturalism, including Zionism and Communism and Nazism, which is the reason he was rounded up and placed in Auschwitz. It is more than a little telling that the conciliarist reinvention of Father Kolbe no longer mentions these facts, stressing only that he gave up his life for a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz. Father Maximilian Kolbe's entire life was devoted to the promotion of public honors that men and their nations must give to the Mother of God, whose Feast of the Assumption is commemorated on the date after he died in Auschwitz in 1941.
Our Lord has entrusted the cause of the Church and the world to His Most Blessed Mother, just as He has entrusted the cause of the salvation of our own souls to her. Whatever we do in this passing, mortal vale of tears must be done with a view to pleasing the Queen of Heaven and earth. We must sing her praises to others. We must wear her Miraculous Medal and enroll ourselves in her Brown Scapular. We must pray at least one set of mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary every day, although the urgency of the state of the Church and the world impel us to pray as many Rosaries as we can each day as our states-in-life permit. We must build up treasure in Heaven by showing forth how much we treasure Our Lady, who has told us that it is indeed through the Rosary that we can get to Heaven. How can we refuse her this simple request? How can we refuse to help to bring about the Triumph of her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. How can we not speak openly in all of the circumstances of our daily lives about the necessity of all men and nations honoring her?
Our thoughts must soar to Heaven, our true home from which we are exiled here as members of the Church Militant on earth, with every beat of our hearts, consecrated as our hearts must be to the Most Sacred Heart of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is through Our Lady alone that it is possible for our hearts to beat in unison with hers and that of her Divine Son. It is through Our Lady alone that we can hope to aspire to Heavenly glories once we day, that our bodies might be raised up incorrupt and glorious on the Last Day so that we can sing her praises in the glory of the Beatific Vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost forever.
The angels sang to Our Lady as she entered Paradise this very day. The angels serenaded as she, the very Mother of God, embraced her Divine Son, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for the first time since before He had Ascended to God the Father's right hand in glory on Ascension Thursday. May we ask Our Lady, the Mediatrix of All the Graces won for us by the shedding of every single drop of her Divine Son's Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross on Good Friday, for all of the graces we need to die in a state of Sanctifying Grace so that we will be received into her loving maternal bosom at the moment of our deaths and then presented to her Divine Son and our Judge as one of her own in preparation for the glorious assumption of our glorified bodies into Heaven on the Last Day.
A blessed Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to you all.
All to thee, Blessed Mother. All to thy Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we love you. Save souls.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us now and in death's agony.
Vivat Christus Rex!
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.
See also: A Litany of Saints