Cardinal Newman on the Assumption

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IV. On the Assumption

(1) May 24  Mary is the “Sancta Dei Genetrix,” the Holy Mother of God

AS soon as we apprehend by faith the great fundamental truth that Mary is the Mother of God, other wonderful truths follow in its train; and one of these is that she was exempt from the ordinary lot of mortals, which is not only to die, but to become earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Die she must, and die she did, as her Divine Son died, for He was man; but various reasons have approved themselves to holy writers, why, although her body was for a while separated from her soul and consigned to the tomb, yet it did not remain there, but was speedily united to her soul again, and raised by our Lord to a new and eternal life of heavenly glory.

And the most obvious reason for so concluding is this—that other servants of God have been raised from the grave by the power of God, and it is not to be supposed that our Lord would have granted any such privilege to anyone else without also granting it to His own Mother.

We are told by St. Matthew, that after our Lord’s death upon the Cross “the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept”—that is, slept the sleep of death, “arose, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection, came into the Holy City, and appeared to many.” St. Matthew says, “many bodies of the Saints”—that is, the holy Prophets, Priests, and Kings of former times—rose again in anticipation of the last day.

Can we suppose that Abraham, or David, or Isaias, or Ezechias, should have been thus favoured, and not God’s own Mother? Had she not a claim on the love of her Son to have what any others had? Was she not nearer to Him than the greatest of the Saints before her? And is it conceivable that the law of the grave should admit of relaxation in their case, and not in hers? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul.

On the Assumption

(2) May 25  Mary is the “Mater Intemerata,” the Sinless Mother

ANOTHER consideration which has led devout minds to believe the Assumption of our Lady into heaven after her death, without waiting for the general resurrection at the last day, is furnished by the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception.

By her Immaculate Conception is meant, that not only did she never commit any sin whatever, even venial, in thought, word, or deed, but further than this, that the guilt of Adam, or what is called original sin, never was her guilt, as it is the guilt attaching to all other descendants of Adam.

By her Assumption is meant that not only her soul, but her body also, was taken up to heaven upon her death, so that there was no long period of her sleeping in the grave, as is the case with others, even great Saints, who wait for the last day for the resurrection of their bodies.

One reason for believing in our Lady’s Assumption is that her Divine Son loved her too much to let her body remain in the grave. A second reason—that now before us—is this, that she was not only dear to the Lord as a mother is dear to a son, but also that she was so transcendently holy, so full, so overflowing with grace. Adam and Eve were created upright and sinless, and had a large measure of God’s grace bestowed upon them; and, in consequence, their bodies would never have crumbled into dust, had they not sinned; upon which it was said to them, “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” If Eve, the beautiful daughter of God, never would have become dust and ashes unless she had sinned, shall we not say that Mary, having never sinned, retained the gift which Eve by sinning lost? What had Mary done to forfeit the privilege given to our first parents in the beginning? Was her comeliness to be turned into corruption, and her fine gold to become dim, without reason assigned? Impossible. Therefore we believe that, though she died for a short hour, as did our Lord Himself, yet, like Him, and by His Almighty power, she was raised again from the grave.

On the Assumption

(3) May 26 Mary is the “Rosa Mystica,” the Mystical Rose

MARY is the most beautiful flower that ever was seen in the spiritual world. It is by the power of God’s grace that from this barren and desolate earth there have ever sprung up at all flowers of holiness and glory. And Mary is the Queen of them. She is the Queen of spiritual flowers; and therefore she is called the Rose, for the rose is fitly called of all flowers the most beautiful.

But moreover, she is the Mystical, or hidden Rose; for mystical means hidden. How is she now “hidden” from us more than are other saints? What means this singular appellation, which we apply to her specially? The answer to this question introduces us to a third reason for believing in the reunion of her sacred body to her soul, and its assumption into heaven soon after her death, instead of its lingering in the grave until the General Resurrection at the last day.

It is this:—if her body was not taken into heaven, where is it? how comes it that it is hidden from us? why do we not hear of her tomb as being here or there? why are not pilgrimages made to it? why are not relics producible of her, as of the saints in general? Is it not even a natural instinct which makes us reverent towards the places where our dead are buried? We bury our great men honourably. St. Peter speaks of the sepulchre of David as known in his day, though he had died many hundred years before. When our Lord’s body was taken down from the Cross, He was placed in an honourable tomb. Such too had been the honour already paid to St. John Baptist, his tomb being spoken of by St. Mark as generally known. Christians from the earliest times went from other countries to Jerusalem to see the holy places. And, when the time of persecution was over, they paid still more attention to the bodies of the Saints, as of St. Stephen, St. Mark, St. Barnabas, St. Peter, St. Paul, and other Apostles and Martyrs. These were transported to great cities, and portions of them sent to this place or that. Thus, from the first to this day it has been a great feature and characteristic of the Church to be most tender and reverent towards the bodies of the Saints. Now, if there was anyone who more than all would be preciously taken care of, it would be our Lady. Why then do we hear nothing of the Blessed Virgin’s body and its separate relics? Why is she thus the hidden Rose? Is it conceivable that they who had been so reverent and careful of the bodies of the Saints and Martyrs should neglect her—her who was the Queen of Martyrs and the Queen of Saints, who was the very Mother of our Lord? It is impossible. Why then is she thus the hidden Rose? Plainly because that sacred body is in heaven, not on earth.

On the Assumption

(4) May 27 Mary is the “Turris Davidica,” the Tower of David

A TOWER in its simplest idea is a fabric for defence against enemies. David, King of Israel, built for this purpose a notable tower; and as he is a figure or type of our Lord, so is his tower a figure denoting our Lord’s Virgin Mother.

She is called the Tower of David because she had so signally fulfilled the office of defending her Divine Son from the assaults of His foes. It is customary with those who are not Catholics to fancy that the honours we pay to her interfere with the supreme worship which we pay to Him; that in Catholic teaching she eclipses Him. But this is the very reverse of the truth.

For if Mary’s glory is so very great, how cannot His be greater still who is the Lord and God of Mary? He is infinitely above His Mother; and all that grace which filled her is but the overflowings and superfluities of His incomprehensible Sanctity. And history teaches us the same lesson. Look at the Protestant countries which threw off all devotion to her three centuries ago, under the notion that to put her from their thoughts would be exalting the praises of her Son. Has that consequence really followed from their profane conduct towards her? Just the reverse—the countries, Germany, Switzerland, England, which so acted, have in great measure ceased to worship Him, and have given up their belief in His Divinity while the Catholic Church, wherever she is to be found, adores Christ as true God and true Man, as firmly as ever she did; and strange indeed would it be, if it ever happened otherwise. Thus Mary is the “Tower of David.”

On the Assumption

(5) May 28  Mary is the “Virgo Potens,” the Powerful Virgin

THIS great universe, which we see by day and by night, or what is called the natural world, is ruled by fixed laws, which the Creator has imposed upon it, and by those wonderful laws is made secure against any substantial injury or loss. One portion of it may conflict with another, and there may be changes in it internally; but, viewed as a whole, it is adapted to stand for ever. Hence the Psalmist says, “He has established the world, which shall not be moved.”

Such is the world of nature; but there is another and still more wonderful world. There is a power which avails to alter and subdue this visible world, and to suspend and counteract its laws; that is, the world of Angels and Saints, of Holy Church and her children; and the weapon by which they master its laws is the power of prayer.

By prayer all this may be done, which naturally is impossible. Noe prayed, and God said that there {71} never again should be a flood to drown the race of man. Moses prayed, and ten grievous plagues fell upon the land of Egypt. Josue prayed, and the sun stood still. Samuel prayed, and thunder and rain came in wheat-harvest. Elias prayed, and brought down fire from heaven. Eliseus prayed, and the dead came to life. Ezechias prayed and the vast army of the Assyrians was smitten and perished.

This is why the Blessed Virgin is called Powerful—nay, sometimes, All-powerful, because she has, more than anyone else, more than all Angels and Saints, this great, prevailing gift of prayer. No one has access to the Almighty as His Mother has; none has merit such as hers. Her Son will deny her nothing that she asks; and herein lies her power. While she defends the Church, neither height nor depth, neither men nor evil spirits, neither great monarchs, nor craft of man, nor popular violence, can avail to harm us; for human life is short, but Mary reigns above, a Queen for ever.

On the Assumption

(6) May 29  Mary is the “Auxilium Christianorum,” the Help of Christians

OUR glorious Queen, since her Assumption on high, has been the minister of numberless services to the elect people of God upon earth, and to His Holy Church. This title of “Help of Christians” relates to those services of which the Divine Office, while recording and referring to the occasion on which it was given her, recounts five, connecting them more or less with the Rosary.

The first was on the first institution of the Devotion of the Rosary by St. Dominic, when, with the aid of the Blessed Virgin, he succeeded in arresting and overthrowing the formidable heresy of the Albigenses in the South of France.

The second was the great victory gained by the Christian fleet over the powerful Turkish Sultan, in answer to the intercession of Pope St. Pius V., and the prayers of the Associations of the Rosary all over the Christian world; in lasting memory of which wonderful mercy Pope Pius introduced her title “Auxilium Christianorum” into her Litany; and Pope Gregory XIII., who followed him, dedicated the first Sunday in October, the day of the victory, to Our Lady of the Rosary.

The third was, in the words of the Divine Office, “the glorious victory won at Vienna, under the guardianship of the Blessed Virgin, over the most savage Sultan of the Turks, who was trampling on the necks of the Christians; in perpetual memory of which benefit Pope Innocent XI. dedicated the Sunday in the Octave of her Nativity as the feast of her august Name.”

The fourth instance of her aid was the victory over the innumerable force of the same Turks in Hungary on the Feast of St. Mary ad Nives, in answer to the solemn supplication of the Confraternities of the Rosary; on occasion of which Popes Clement XI. and Benedict XIII. gave fresh honour and privilege to the Devotion of the Rosary.

And the fifth was her restoration of the Pope’s temporal power, at the beginning of this century, after Napoleon the First, Emperor of the French, had taken it from the Holy See; on which occasion Pope Pius VII. set apart May 24, the day of this mercy, as the Feast of the Help of Christians, for a perpetual thanksgiving.

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7 Comments

  1. On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly declared: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” (Munificentissimus Deus, 44)

    The Assumption is the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I desire the grace of a holy death. I think of Mary’s glorious assumption into Heaven when she was united with her Divine Son.

    Amen! Alleluiah!

  2. In France, the Assumption is a public holiday and whenever it falls on a Thursday, as it does this year, a lot of people take the Friday off to make a long week-end or « faire le pont. » literally, “make a bridge,” as they call it.

    My friends tell me that the reason Corpus Christi (« Le Fête-Dieu » or “Festival of God” – a lovely name) is transferred to the following Sunday, is that, because it would lead to a long week-end, the government told the bishops they could only have one public holiday that always falls on a Thursday and they chose the Ascension. The others are All Saints, Christmas Day. Easter Monday and Whit Monday are also public holidays – an attempt to abolish Whit Monday some years ago led to strikes and near-riots and not only from the devout. There are church services and processions on the 8th May, which commemorates not only the end of WWII, but St Jeanne d’Arc’s raising the siege of Orléans, in which I am pleased to say the Scottish Free Companies played a distinguished rôle.

    With his love of Baroque music, Cardinal Newman would have appreciateded last night’s performance of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers of the Virgin at the Church of the Madeleine.

  3. Donald, it is not the unanimous decision of the church that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven. This is not what the Spirit has witnessed corporately. It was a pronouncement issued many centuries after the canon was closed. Nothing in the canon suggests that Mary received her body. According to the New Testament, Christ the firstfruits resurrected and the church, too, will resurrect upon his return. To say that Mary already received her body is to ignore the order St. Paul described.

  4. “Donald, it is not the unanimous decision of the church that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven. This is not what the Spirit has witnessed corporately.”

    It is what the Catholic Church teaches Jon and as the title of this blog indicates that is what is important for me. In regard to the bodily assumption of Mary into Heaven, the celebrations of it go back to the early fifth century with the Patriarch of Jerusalem responding to requests for Marian relics by the Emperor Marcian informing him that there were none in Jerusalem and that Mary had died in the presence of the Apostles and that her tomb, when it was opened, was found to be empty and that the Apostles had concluded that her body had been taken up into Heaven.

  5. Donald M McClarey is right. The Dormition of the Mother of God is a feast of great antiquity in the East, for it is celebrated by the Non-Chalcedonian Churches, who separated after Chalcedon in 451. It is preceded by the 14-day Fast of the Dormition, which makes our Western fasting look positively effete – No food at all until after Vespers and no meat, fish, eggs, dairy products. Moreover, wine and oil are allowed only on Saturdays and Sundays. This gives some inkling of the importance attached to the feast.

  6. “Donald, it is not the unanimous decision of the church that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven.”

    Jon, so far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the dogmatic status of this or any other authoritative teaching does not depend on unanimity, but on its definition by the divinely-appointed and -guided teaching office (magisterium) of the Church, which is the episcopate in communion with the Successor of Peter. What Pius XII did, in his role as head of and spokesman for the episcopal college (who had been consulted in detail prior to the definition and overwhelmingly favored it) was to define explicitly as part of the deposit of apostolic faith something that had been believed, or at the very least not denied, since time immemorial. In so doing, he was exercising an ecclesial constitutional right of his office, the denial of which in principle sets one outside the full communion of the Church.

    One problem with the notion that unanimity is required for a dogmatic definition is that those who propound it can’t seem to agree on how it is to be discerned, or what are the temporal limits within which it can be discerned.

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