The Burial and Resurrection
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
and Her Glorious Assumption into Heaven
Similar in all things to her Divine Son, the glorious triumph of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not completed with Her happy and holy death. She had also to resemble Him in the glory of the sepulchre and in the triumph of Her Resurrection. At death, all other men are subject to that inexorable power which brings us down to the very earth, to be changed in a sepulchre into corruption and dust. That is why, to us, the sepulchre appears so cold, so sad, and so humiliating. But it was not to be so for Our Lady. Unlike the clammy repositories for the victims of Original Sin, her sepulchre was but a place of transitory and tranquil repose. It is not uncommon, in the case of those persons who have died in the odor of sanctity, to feel a strange comfort, and even a mysterious attraction in the presence of their dead bodies.
Their very countenance seems to manifest the present serenity of soul with which they entered eternity. Can we imagine, then, what would have been experienced in the presence of Mary's body, lifeless, it is true, but ever virgin, spotless and pure, ever immaculate!
Let us try to picture the scene which took place at her burial. How sorrowful it would be for her devoted servants to behold her sweet eyes closed; to see those blessed lips, which had uttered so many words of consolation, now motionless and silent; to see the stillness of those elegant, virginal hands, which had lavished so many graces and blessings. Above all, how sad to gaze upon that beautiful, unmoving countenance, which had borne enchanting testimony to the Divine Mysteries of which she was both witness and participant. But at the same time, how consoling, how comforting, how delightful it was for all to contemplate that placid calm, that supernatural resplendence of that immaculate body, to perceive the perfume exhaled from it, a scent which perfumed all the surroundings.
See the Apostles and all those present bending reverently to kiss those hands and those feet, making their sad farewells, accompanying her to the place of burial, lighting torches, burning perfumes, showering flowers whilst the angels joined in with their celestial canticles; hymns which sounded not as mourning or wailing, but as triumphant songs.
Laid like her Divine Son in a new sepulchre, the Apostles departed, and the hosts of angelic choirs of Heaven remained there, jealously standing on guard of their Immaculate Queen. Let us also tarry there at this moving spectacle, and accompany that holy body in this last journey of her mortal life. Let us join the choirs of angels and sing with them the praises of our loving Mother. Let us ask that one day we may, with the angels, sing the same praises in Heaven forever.
The Incorruption of Her Immaculate Body
The sinless body and soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her triumph over death, demanded her exemption from the common corruption of the sepulchre. Since God has granted this singular grace to many bodies of the saints, how could it possibly be denied to His Immaculate Mother? Says St. John Damascene rightly: "How could the corruption of death enter that body from which Life itself had sprung?"
It has been said that Mary is the "beginning of Christ", the Son of God-made-Man. How then could He, Who was already in Heaven seated at the Right Hand of His Father, surrounded by the majesty of His Divine glory, permit that that body, from which He had taken His own, should be invaded by the corruption of the sepulchre?
That necessary corruption of our body proceeds from sin, which is the seed of corruption. Consequently, Our Lady, who was Conceived without Original Sin and preserved from every stain, even from the slightest shadow of sin, could not undergo the slightest corruption. How could the virginal purity of her immaculate body give way to that repulsive decay? Would not that body which was the first to be vowed in virginity to God deserve Heaven on this earth as a very special reward? The Ark of the Covenant was made of incorruptible timbers, and yet this was only a figure of the reality which it foreshadowed: the soul and the incorruptible body of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the real Ark of the New Covenant. Let us therefore beg of Our Lady that we may be given some small share of this incorruptibility from sin, which is the only corruption we should fear.
Incorruption was still far too little for the definitive triumph of Our Heavenly Mother. The real conclusion of her mortal life could be nothing less than a new life in a glorious Resurrection, a new immortality communicated by Her soul and to Her body, thus constituting a perfectly Christ-like life which would never know death. As Mary is the beginning of Christ, it is impossible to separate the Mother from her Son. Hence it follows, as a natural consequence, that Christ must put an end to that state of things which, so to speak, hindered the relations between the Immaculate Mother and her Divine Son. They were separated from each other, and so it was imperative that Our Lady should join Him as soon as possible. Jesus and Mary must meet again in Heaven, since they had lived so closely united here on earth.
Moreover, the body of Our Heavenly Mother was not an occasion of sin for her as ours is. It knew no disorderly passions, it experienced no rebellion against the spirit, and all was harmonious and submissive to the Will of God. It was an orderly and perfect ensemble where the body was ever in obedience to the soul of Mary. Her most pure flesh was always in perfect submission to the spirit of Mary, which was always the spirit of God. It was then just that they should not be estranged from each other; but rather, as a reward of that submission, it was fitting that God should join them together so that they might keep on serving and praising God in their continued union and harmony!
Imagine then, the happy instant in which, through the virtue and omnipotence of Her Divine Son, the pure body of Our Lady received from her soul a new life, and rose glorious and immortal, triumphing victoriously over the sepulchre. How joyful would that most holy body appear on finding itself inseparably united to that most holy soul! How great would its beauty be, since the Virgin Mary was always, even in Her earthly life, so resplendently beautiful! Contemplate the wonder of the Apostles in the early morning dew, as they went to visit the sepulchre, and found there only a sweet scent left behind by the risen body. How this would recall to their minds memories remembrance of the Resurrection of their Crucified Master! How they would rejoice on seeing that Christ's Mother had also gloriously risen! Let us offer our congratulations to the Divine Son and to His admirable Mother; and beg again for a share in that inseparable and eternal union. Let us promise that we will never be torn from them, neither by sufferings nor by joys, neither in struggle nor in triumph.
HER GLORIOUS ASSUMPTION
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
and Her Glorious Assumption
These two mysteries are closely linked together. Holy Mother Church has emphasized both by observing them as Feasts of Obligation, even today, after having witnessed the sad suppression of so many other feasts of Our Lady by the Modernists. The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption mark the beginning and the end of Our Lady's life on this earth. These two extremes are so beautifully linked together, that one seems to be like the reason of the other. If Mary is immaculate-she cannot remain in the sepulchre; her pure body must necessarily rise to Heaven. The Virgin's Immaculate Conception is a unique privilege. It is an exception to that general necessity to which all other men must submit. That is why it might be said that, instead of dying, Our Lady merely "shed her mortality". Even in her Conception she was preserved from the slavery of sin, and was therefore immaculate. She could never be the slave of death either, which is the consequence of sin; and therefore, she was taken body and soul into Heaven. The Glorious Assumption of Our Heavenly Mother is the necessary complement of Her Immaculate Conception.
The Truth of the Assumption
The truth of the Assumption of Our Lady is now a solemn dogma, pronounced as such by the Church. But even before the definition proclaimed by Pius XII on that glorious first of November, 1950, to oppose it, according to Suarez, would have been to fall into grave theological error, since the doctrine had been taught from the earliest centuries of Christianity. Its denial would have been rash opposition to the unanimous belief of the universal Church, a belief based on one of the most ancient and most constant traditions of the Holy Fathers. The Church celebrates the Assumption of Our Lady as one of Her greatest festivities and prepares for it with fasting and abstinence.
The Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven has a direct connection with His Passion. In a parallel manner, if the painful Passion of Our Lord had its culmination in the glory of His Ascension, so Mary, Who was so intimately united to Her Son on Calvary, crowns Her Compassion with the victory of Her Assumption.
All of us one day will rise and, by the grace of God, we shall be taken into Heaven. But is it not fit and just that the Immaculate Virgin Mary should precede us, and as a Mother, should prepare a home for her children in Heaven? Is she not our provident Mistress and Queen? Then she must go at the head of the battalions of her devoted children and slaves of love. She was the first in grace; she was the first in sanctity; and she was the first in virginity. Hence it is just that she be also the first in the Resurrection and Ascension.
Were it otherwise, Our Lord could be said to have been unfair to His Mother by refusing to her an honor that was granted to so many other saints. Indeed, where is the body of Mary, where are Her relics, where is Her magnificent sepulchre, the precious gems, the rich urn which holds Her sacred remains? Nothing of the kind exists. Nor can they exist for our beloved Mother was taken to heaven, body and soul. Thank God for this. Congratulate Our Blessed Lady, since through Her Assumption She occupies the place befitting Her in the Kingdom of God.
The Glory of the Assumption
For the last time, let us contemplate that tomb from where a burst of light is soon going to spring a resplendent life victorious over death.
During the three days that her immaculate body remained in the tomb, it was guarded by angels sent by God; a bodyguard to Her who was shortly to be crowned as their Queen. Hearken to the heavenly strains incessantly intoned by the angels in honor of that virginal body. Listen to the appeals by which they would exert a sweet violence on God, constantly repeating those words of the psalm that seems to have been written for that very occasion: Rise, Lord, and hasten to Thy resting place, Thou and Thy ark of sanctity. Rise to the heights of that throne; sit at the right of Thy Father, since this is the place that belongs to Thee. But take along with Thee that holy Ark of the Covenant where Thou wert once contained, where the infinite treasure of Thy sanctity was deposited. Hasten to glorify that holy flesh, that most pure blood which provided the elements of that sacred Body which furnished Thee the matter to be offered to Thy Father, the Spotless Host of atonement and sanctification for the sins of the whole world.
And, in fact, that most happy moment arrived in which God fulfilled these longings of the heavens, and by His order the immaculate soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary came once again to join her pure body. Then that blessed body, quickened by the life of immortality, began to rise to Heaven, as naturally, says the Church, as the scented smoke of the incense rises to the sky.
Countless legions of angels descended from Heaven to take part in Our Lady's triumphant entry into the mansions of eternity. Their victorious music and hymns of glory filled the air with unspeakably beautiful harmony. Their joy is unparalleled, for God has today enhanced their glory and increased their happiness. Today all of them shine with a new life; and in their midst, as the moon among the stars, the most pure beauty of the Mother of God shines forth with extraordinary splendor. Her Divine Son, Who personally came to receive Her and thus enhance her triumph, takes her lovingly by the hand. Slowly she rises from this earth, pierces the clouds and arrives at the gates of Heaven where all the angels, impatiently awaiting her arrival have come to welcome the magnificent procession.
So ends the scene on this earth, and thus begins the glory of Heaven. If we could but picture the greatest and most splendid things imaginable, all would be nothing in comparison with that sublime and magnificent reality. Let us measure ourselves in all our littleness and misery before the greatness of our Immaculate Mother, and rise with her far above the things of this earth. In a special manner, let us strive to imitate her humility, so that we too, one day, may be escorted with her a heavenly life and eternal glory.
PRAYER: THE CHIEF DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN
The Ascetical Doctrine of St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori
The great confidence with which we ought to pray to the good God, may be hindered by the knowledge of our many sins. "But I am a sinner," you will say; "and in the Scriptures I read, 'God heareth not sinners' " (John 9:31). But St. Thomas Aquinas answers that this is indeed true of the prayer of a sinner "insofar as he is a sinner", that is, when he asks God for something merely from a desire of continuing in his sins; as, for instance, if he were to ask the Divine assistance to enable him to take revenge on his enemy, or to accomplish any other wicked intention. The same holds true for the sinner who prays to God to save him, but does not have a sincere desire to renounce the state of sin in which he is living. There are indeed those miserable souls who love the chains of sin with which the Devil keeps them enslaved.
Thus, the prayers of such unrepentant sinners are not heard by God; because they are rash, presumptuous, and abominable. For what greater presumption can there be than for a man to ask favors of a Lord, Whom he has not only often offended, but Whom he intends to offend still more? This is the meaning of the Holy Ghost, when He says that the prayer of him who turns away his ears so as not to hear what God commands is detestable and odious to God: "He who turneth away his ears from learning the law, his prayer shall be an abomination" (Prov. 28:29). To these people God says, your praying to Me is of no use, for I will turn My eyes from you, and will not hear you: "When you stretch forth your hands, I will turn away My eyes from you; and when you multiply prayers, I will not hear" (Is. 1:15). Such, was the prayer of the impious Antiochus, who anxiously prayed to God in his mortal illness, making great promises, but his heart was obstinate in sin; the sole object of his prayer being to escape the impending punishment of his condemnation. Therefore, God did not hear his prayer, but caused him to die devoured by worms: "Then this wicked man prayed to the Lord, of Whom he was not to obtain mercy." (1 Mach. 9:13)
But there are others who, sinning through frailty or by the violence of some great passion, groan under the yoke of sin with an earnest desire to break these chains of death and to escape from their miserable slavery. For this, these repentant souls ask the assistance of God, and their prayer, if it is persevering, will certainly be heard by Him Who says that every one that asks receives, and he who seeks grace will find it: "For everyone that asks shall receive, and he that seeks shall find" (Matt. 7:8). Note that Our Lord says everyone, whether he be a just man or a sinner.
In the Gospel of St. Luke, Our Lord gives us the example of a man who gave all the loaves he had to his friend in the middle of the night, not so much on account of his friendship, as because of the other's persistence in asking: "If he shall continue knocking, I say to you, although he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needs" (Luke 11:8). "And so I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given to you" (ibid.) Thus, persevering prayer obtains mercy from God, even for those who are not His friends. That which is not obtained through friendship, says St. John Chrysostom, is obtained by prayer. He even says that prayer is valued more by God than friendship: "Friendship is not of such avail with God as prayer; that which is not effected by friendship is effected by prayer" (Hom. Non Esse Desp.) Without prayer, even the friends of God cannot long remain thus, but through prayer, a sinner can swiftly obtain His love.
St. Basil the Great is certain that even sinners obtain what they ask if they persevere in praying: "Sinners obtain what they seek, if they seek perseveringly" (Const. Mon. c.1). St. Gregory says the same thing: "The sinner also shall cry, and his prayer shall reach to God" (In Ps. 6, paen.) Thus speaks also St. Jerome (Ep. Ad Dam. De Fil. prod.), who says that even the sinner can call God his Father, if he prays to Him to receive him anew as a son; after the example of the Prodigal Son, who called Him Father, "Father, I have sinned" (Luke 15:21), even though he had not as yet been pardoned. St. Augustine says, "If God does not hear sinners, would the Publican have said, 'O God, be merciful to me, a sinner'" (In Jo. Tr. 44)? But the Gospel assures us that the Publican did indeed obtain forgiveness: "This man went down to his house justified" (Luke 18:14).
But St. Thomas examines this point still more minutely, and declares that even though the prayer of the sinner is not meritorious, yet it does have the power of impetration,that is, of obtaining what is asked. This is because impetration is not founded on God's Justice, but rather on His Goodness. "Merit," he says, "depends on Justice; impetration depends on grace" (2.2 q.83, a.16). Thus did the prophet Daniel pray: "Incline Thine ear, O my God, and hear… for not in our justifications do we present our prayers before Thy Face, but in the multitude of Thy mercies" (Dan. 9:18).
Therefore, when we pray, St. Thomas says, it is not necessary to be the friends of God in order to obtain the grace we ask, for prayer itself renders us His friends: "Prayer itself makes us of the family of God" (Comp. Theol. p. 2, c. 2). Moreover, St. Bernard makes use of a beautiful explanation of this, saying that the prayer of a sinner to escape from sin arises from the desire to return to the grace of God. Now this very desire is a gift, which is certainly given by none other than God Himself. To what end, therefore, says the saint, would God give to a sinner this holy desire, unless He meant to hear him? "For what would He give the desire, unless He willed to hear?" And indeed, in the Holy Scriptures themselves there are multitudes of instances of sinners who have been delivered from sin by prayer. Thus was King Achab delivered (3 Kings 21:27), thus King Manasses (2 Par. 33:12), thus King Nabuchodonosor (Dan. 4:31), and thus the Good Thief (Luke 23:42). Oh, the wonderful, the mighty power of prayer! Two sinners are dying on Calvary by the side of Jesus Christ; one, because he prays, "Remember me," is saved; the other, because he does not pray, is damned for all eternity.
St. John Chrysostom declares: "No man has asked favors from Him with sorrow, without having obtained what he desired" (Hom. de Moys.) No truly repentant sinner has ever prayed to God, without having his requests granted. But why should we cite more authorities, and give even more reasons to demonstrate this point, when Our Divine Lord Himself says, "Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you" (Matt. 11:28). The "burdened", according to Saints Augustine, Jerome, and others, are sinners in general, who groan under the load of their sins; and who, if they have recourse to God, will surely, according to His promise, be refreshed and saved by His grace. Ah, we cannot possibly desire to be pardoned so much as he longs to pardon us. "Thou dost not," says St. John Chrysostom, "so much desire thy sins to be forgiven, as He desires to forgive thy sins" (In Act. hom. 36). "There is nothing," he goes on to say, "which prayer cannot obtain, though a man be guilty of a thousand sins, provided it be fervent and unremitting."
It is well for us to mark the words of St. James: "If any man want wisdom, let him ask it of God, Who giveth to all abundantly, and upbraideth not" (James 1:5). All therefore, who pray to God, are infallibly heard by Him, and receive grace in abundance: "He giveth to all abundantly." But we should particularly note the words which follow, "and upbraideth not". This means that God does not act as men do, who, when a person that has formerly done them an injury comes to ask for a favor, immediately upbraid him with his offense. God does not do so to the man who prays, even though he were the greatest sinner in the world, when he asks for some grace conducive to his eternal salvation. He does not upbraid him for the offenses he has committed; but, as though he had never displeased Him, He instantly receives him; He consoles him, He hears him, and enriches him with an abundance of His gifts. Finally, and in order to encourage us to pray, our Savior says: "Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My Name, He will give it to you" (John 16:23). It is as though He were saying, "Take courage, O sinners, and do not despair; do not let your sins turn you away from having recourse to My Father, and to be saved by Him, if you so desire it. Even though you have not now any merits to obtain the graces for which you ask-for you only deserve punishment-even still, go to My Father in My Name, through My merits ask the favors you desire, and I promise and swear to you that whatever you ask, My Father will grant ("Amen, amen, I say to you," according to St. Augustine, is a species of oath.) O God, what greater comfort can a repentant sinner have after his fall than to know for certain that all he asks from God in the Name of Jesus Christ will be given to Him!
I say "all", but I mean only that which has reference to eternal salvation; for with respect to temporal goods, we have already shown that God-even when asked-sometimes does not give them; because He sees that they would injure our soul. But as far as spiritual goods are concerned, His promise to hear us is not conditional, but absolute; and therefore St. Augustine tells us that those things which God promises absolutely, we should ask with absolute certainty of receiving: "Those things which God promises, seek with certainty" (Serm. 354, E.B.) And how, says the saint, can God ever deny us the graces which He desires to bestow upon us far more than we desire to receive them? "He is more willing to be munificent of His benefits to thee than thou art desirous to receive them" (Serm. 105, E.B.)
St. John Chrysostom says the only time God is angry with us is when we neglect to ask Him for His gifts: "He is only angry when we do not pray" (In Matt. Hom. 23). And how can it ever happen that God will not hear a soul who asks Him for favors, all according to His own Divine pleasure? When the soul says to Him, "Dear Lord, I do not ask Thee for the goods of this world: riches, pleasures, or honors; I ask Thee only for Thy grace. Do but deliver me from sin; make me resigned to Thy holy Will, and impart to me Thy holy love (which is the grace which we should seek more than all others); finally, grant to me a holy death and receive me into the glory of Paradise." Do we really believe it possible that God should not hear such a prayer?! What petitions wilt Thou ever hear, O my God, says St. Augustine, if Thou dost not hear those which are made after Thy own Heart? "What prayers dost Thou hear, if Thou hearest not these" (De Civ. Dei, 1. 22, c. 8)? But above all, our confidence ought to be enkindled, when we pray to God for spiritual graces, as Jesus Christ says: "If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from Heaven, give the good spirit to them that ask Him!" In other words, if you, who are so attached to your own interests, so full of self-love, cannot refuse your own children that which they ask, how much more will your heavenly Father, who loves you more perfectly than any earthly father, grant you His spiritual goods when you pray to Him for them!
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