Monday, August 15, 2011

Assumpta est Maria in Caelum

1 alleluia laudate pueri Dominum laudate nomen Domini
2 sit nomen Domini benedictum ex hoc nunc et usque in saeculum
3 a solis ortu usque ad occasum laudabile nomen Domini
4 excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus super caelos gloria eius
5 quis sicut Dominus Deus noster qui in altis habitat
6 et humilia respicit in caelo et in terra
7 suscitans a terra inopem et de stercore erigens pauperem
8 ut collocet eum cum principibus cum principibus populi sui
9 qui habitare facit sterilem in domo matrem filiorum laetantem

PRAISE the Lord, ye servants : O praise the Name of the Lord.
2. Blessed be the Name of the Lord : from this time forth for evermore.
3. The Lord's Name is praised : from the rising up of the sun unto the going down of the same.
4. The Lord is high above all heathen and his glory above the heavens.
5. Who is like unto the Lord our God, that hath his dwelling so high : and yet humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth?
6. He taketh up the simple out of the dust : and lifteth the poor out of the mire;
7. That he may set him with the princes : even with the princes of his people.
8. He maketh the barren woman to keep house : and to be a joyful mother of children.

Actually, I listened to Monteverdi's glorious setting of Vespers last night before I recited First Vespers. It was this psalm, psalm cxii(i) that spoke to me most. In the above video, the psalm follows the Antiphon Nigra sum alluding to the Song of Solomon in which the maiden, though dark skinned from being of common stock is still regarded as beautiful in the eyes of the king.

The psalm proper starts at about 03:50 and it's this psalm which, to my mind, sums up what the Assumption of Our Lady is about. Monteverdi does a splendid job of emphasising this musically. Listen to how he sets verse 7 in the Latin. It's dynamic, hurried, alive as Monteverdi sees a God active in His intention to lift the poor man from the dung heap (stercore). And why? Suddenly, the music slows into a stately pace and is filled with sumptuous suspensions which is repeated! The words are ut collocet eum cum principibus - that He may set him (the poor man) among princes - and lays bare the intention of God to bring His Church - rich man and poor man, the mighty and the humble - together to Him.

Our Lady is a synecdoche, a representative of the Church as a whole, and her fate is to be the fate of the faithful. Of course, there are disagreements between Christians about the Role of Our Lady in the Cosmic Drama of Creation, Redemption and Salvation, but at the very least we should be able to make some identification with her as the human being who possesses the most intimate relationship with the Saviour.

If Christians are ever to be united then it is through the deepening of the relationship that we have with Christ - Christ has to be the uniting influence if we stand a chance of being regarded as One Body. For Catholics, this means the development of our interaction with Christ sacramentally and ensuring that they are ever more aware of Christ's reality in that sacrament. For Protestants, this means an ever deepening of that "personal relationship with Jesus" so that the words of Scripture aren't just read, aren't just acted upon, but realised in the life and heart of the believer. If the Catholic and the Protestant are both honest and earnest in their attempts, then they will be united in the same Jesus Christ - there's only one of Him after all.

Wherever Our Lord is, Our Lady is not far behind. How can a mother ever be far from her beloved child? Catholics know that she is not an object of worship but an object of reverence and veneration. To look to her is to be directed to Christ and one can see Him through her. To ask for her prayers is to find a companion kneeling beside us, showing us how she prays and making our prayers her own. Her assumption is the assumption of the Church; her end is our end. This is God's promise to us and He fulfils that in Our Lady to show that He fulfils His promise.

If we Christians are to have any effect in demonstrating that God is faithful and loving, thus shedding the light of Christ within us upon a dark and rapidly declining Earth, then we are going to have to start saying "yes" to God a great deal more and start wanting to become saints rather than being passive in our sacraments and scripture. If one woman from common stock can change the world just by saying "yes" to God, then what can we do in addition? We have to want to become saints; we have to want to get ourselves into the state where we too may be assumed.

While we may be only saints in training now, why don't we start trying to be saints properly now? That may mean a lifetime of repentance (though a Benedictine would call that conversatio mores) but it doesn't matter who we are, rich man or poor. By being saints, we open ourselves to the possibility of being gathered cum principibus populi sui and into the courts of Heaven.

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