Sunday, August 17, 2008

Assumption Devotions

On newly reconciled The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer's site there are a whole series of pictures of their celebrations for the Assumption. Before the altar is this amazing catafalque, draped in white and decked with flowers and candles, on the top you can glimpse a shrouded statue of the Mother of God.

I know that in the Eastern Rites of the Church the erection of such a catafalque is normal, in some places some form of funeral rite is celebrated together with a procession. That is about all I know. Has anyone further knowledge of this ritual?

I was a bit dissappointed by the number of people who came to our Assumption Day celebration, it was about half what it would have been before their Lordships moved the Dominical Holy Days to the nearesy Sunday. I had spoken about the obligation of attendng Mass last Sunday, and the importance of taking the day off to pray and celebrate if it is possible.

An Evangelical Initiative
One of my young Slovakian couples told me that for the last two years they always tried to take the day off on the great feast days, to come to Mass, to pray together and to have a party for their English non-Catholic friends, "just so we can talk about the joy of the feast to them", apparently it was something I said to them about "sharing the joy of faith", a few weeks after their arrival in Brighton. Partying seems like a very gentle evangelical initiative.
There are one or two of my parishioners who would love the idea of toasting the Blessed Virgin under each of her titles from the Litany of Lorretto with a gentle explanation of each. I understand this was or is a popular devotion amongst recruits in one pious Polish regiment. I am not sure how far they got with a small slug of 75% proof Vodka for each title.


Mulier Fortis said...

I also noticed the marked drop in attendance at the evening Mass of the Assumption... apparently attendance at the other two Masses was even lower.

Their Lordships will one day have to explain themselves to Our Lord. They are to be pitied, I think!

alban said...

Fr Ray: As you know, in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches the Solemnity of the Assumption is called the ‘Dormition of the Virgin’ or ‘Dormition of the Theotokos’ (I love that latter expression). Although never defined as dogma in the Eastern Christianity, it is held as a major feast. I find it interesting that the word ‘dormition’ is used, as it implies a falling asleep rather than death itself, although two Orthodox priest friends of mine assure me that the Orthodox do indeed believe that Mary died a natural death. Although I have never read Pius XII’s apostolic constitution defining the dogma of the Assumption, I am told that he alluded to her death on several occasions.

The practice of using a catafalque (which they call ‘epitaphios’) during Holy Week and on the feast of the Dormition of the BVM, is stronger within the Russian church and than the Greek; it is often processed through the church, and even the streets in some places. It is indeed, a funeral procession, as you mentioned. I also know that the feast is preceded by a period of fasting. As to the origins, I am in the dark.

I have witnessed the celebrations of Holy Week in Greek Orthodoxy; if those concerning the Assumption/Dormition are similar, they are a beautiful mixture of solemnity and mild chaos.

Like you, I favour having retained the celebration of the Assumption on the actual day of the 15th. There is much to be said for reminding people that the observance of our Faith is not reserved for Sundays, and that there are great lights at other times. As for the toasting with vodka, or some other suitable libation; another wonderful example of how Catholic tradition is much more joyful than most of the Reformed. Whilst not denying that the Church was in need of reformation in the 16th century, I believe that the Reformers took much of the joy out of the message of the Gospel.

Volpius Leonius said...

"it was about half what it would have been before their Lordships moved the Dominical Holy Days to the nearesy Sunday."

You didn't have to be a prophet to predict that would happen Father.

The Bishops keep relaxing the disciplines and so the people become less disciplined naturally.

The fact that Holy Days can essentially be disposed of so easily sends the message loud and clear that they really aren't all that important and the people have took that message and ran with it.

As the saying goes "give them an inch and they will take a mile"

This kind of thing is self fulfilling, the Bishops removed the Holy Days for the given reason that not enough people were attending, because of that less people attend the remaining ones and so they will now get rid of these ones to if they are been consistent, even though it is their actions which are the cause of the decline.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Alban, Whe Jesus goes to raise Jairus' daughter, mourning has already begun but Jesus says that she is sleeping.
The "death" of the Immaculate (death being the consequence of sin) is surely sleep. I suppose we retain that notion when we speak of "resting" in peace for all the Faithful departed.

PeterHWright said...

This is a most interesting post.

I visited the website of the monks at Papa Stronsay, and was intrigued by their ritual observance of the Feast of the Assumption. Of course, the community is, I understand, bi-ritual, some of the monks being of the eastern Catholic rite, wearing a different habit. They have as yet no ordained priests of the eastern rite, I think.

The photos they have posted clearly show Mass of the Roman rite being celebrated. But the use of the catafalque is clearly an eastern rite observance of the Dormition on the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption.

The eastern rite maintains the tradition that Mary actually died before her Assumption, whereas the western rite does not explicitly say so. It is interesting to see that this point was left vague when Pius XII in "munificentissimus Deus" when Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption in 1950.

I see a statue is used here, but I would have expected to see the use of the Epitaphios, an embroidered icon, of the Theotokos placed atop the bier, in a similar way to the Epitaphios of Christ on Great Saturday in Holy Week.

I don't know if on this occasion the bier was carried in procession which would correspond to the eastern rite observance.

The eastern rite still observe eight days of Afterfeast, I think, but since in the Roman rite the Octave was suppressed in 1955, I rather doubt there will be any liturgical celebration of the Octave on Papa Stronsay !

It would be very interesting to read a comment from an expert on the eastern traditions.

Sorry, I've only just read Alban's comment. Most interesting !

the hound said...

We did not have Mass in our church on the 15th, ( we are not a parish church, there was mass there). When it was mentioned today that Friday was the Assumption there was general confusion. In discussing the matter after Mass some said, "Oh! I thought they had done away with that", or "but it's not a holy day of obligation anymore is it?". (We had a priest from ourside the parish last Sunday and he made no announcements.) Trouble is that once the obligation has been transferred there slim chance or none of it ever being restored. My guess is that the bishops sense that a mistake has been made but of course they will never admit it. My gut feeling is that the debacle over the observation of the feasts by those who prefer the old calender and old Mass stems as much from that realisation as a dislike of the traditional Mass.

Anonymous said...

The Church has never pronounced on the question of whether Our Lady died or was translated without the separation of her soul from her body.

There's a case for both options, but I personally favour the position that she was translated, probably (in view of the term 'Dormition') during natural sleep.

Let me state my case.

Jesus and Mary were both mortal, capable of dying, but because they were sinless neither was liable to it. One who is sinless does not die in the normal course of nature.

Death is imposed on us sinners by divine justice and happens to us whether we want it to or not.

Jesus Himself chose to die in atonement for our sins and for the preservation from sin of His Mother. It was His prerogative to do this because He is God.

It is difficult to see why God would impose death on Our Lady, or even invite her to it, because He hates death and did not make it. He does not delight in the death of one who is a sinner, let alone one who isn't.

He will never impose it on anyone unless divine justice compellingly demands it, and it is impossible for me to see any just reason why Our Lady should have died.

gemoftheocean said...

Funny you should mention. I took advantage of the day by attending Mass at our local Byzantine Catholic Rite. [My mother was brought up in this right, and if you really want to be technical, I'm one too.]

I wrote about it the other day.

Flowers were blessed after Mass, and the priest also anoints your head with oil.

Anonymous said...

I have seen an Assumption catafalque in a Western church, and I THINK it was at Lisbon Cathedral.

Anonymous said...

We went to St Albans on Friday and went to look at the Cathedral at about 11.30.

On getting there we discovered that they held a Catholic Mass every Friday in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral.

I was surprised how well attended it was until it started and the priest said the feast day...which we had forgotten

The Mass is every Friday in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral, immediately behind the shrine to St Alban at 12.00 and is advertised as "Roman Catholic Mass" lest anyone doubt.

The cathedral is the former Benedictine Abbey. After the reformation the locals subscribed to buy the church but had no funds to maintain the fabric. Unlike so many the whole church has survived. Fortunately it was built with Roman bricks from the abandoned Roman town so was able to survive 300 years without any maintenance after the reformation before being restored in the 19th century. The lady chapel which had become a School was restored at this time.

PeterHWright said...

An afterthought ..

Father mentions the pious (or do I mean impious ?) practice of toasting the B.V.M under each of her titles in the Litany of Loreto.

How many titles is that ? It's over forty, isn't it ?

A hardened drinker with hollow legs might just about make it to "Cause of our joy". The rest of us would be well and truly sozzled before we reached "Mother most amiable".

Anonymous said...

"Although I have never read Pius XII’s apostolic constitution defining the dogma of the Assumption, I am told that he alluded to her death on several occasions"

From what I remember, in his solemn declaration, Pope St. Pius XII uses the phrase, "after completing the course of her life on earth" or something to this effect, in order to accomodate the beliefs of not only the Orthodox but Eastern Catholics as well.

JARay said...

To the best of my memory, I believe that there is a tradition that the Apostles gathered round Our Lady on her deathbed at Ephesus. She was then buried. A subsequent attempt to transfer the body of Our Lady, to, I think, Constantinople, resulted in the discovery that the grave was empty.
Of course, my memory may be playing tricks on me.
When I was at The English College, Lisbon we went and sang a solemn Requiem for Pius XII in the church of the Irish Dominicans. We used a catafalque then.


Mulier Fortis said...

I've tagged you for a very short meme here!

Anonymous said...

I have always found the Ephesine shrine to be a bit problematic in terms of the Dormition/Assumption of the Most holy Theotokos. In Jerusalen there is a Benedictine Abbey as the site of the Dormition, and a church near Gethsemane as the site of her Burial and Assumption to her Son. The Eastern tradition ascribes the dormition/falling asleep/death of the Theotokos on August 15, whereas her Assumption is maintained three days later on the 18th, when the tomb was opened for the ever late for everything Apostle Thomas to view her relics for the last time. It was then that the tomb was found empty, with only flowers inside the Tomb. So the Immaculate Mother of God reigns with Her Son as Queen of Heaven and Earth. May she be proclaimed blessed now and unto generation and generation. Amen.

Anonymous said...

I wonder, does this catafalque tradition involve four people standing Vigil of the Watch?

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