Friday, August 20, 2010

Celebrating the Dormition of Mary

Last Sunday, August 15, I hosted a house Mass for members and friends of Cornerstone Old Catholic Community.

As you may recall, it was the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God - a feast day that predates Roman Catholicism's Feast of the Assumption, is celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, and Old Catholic Churches, and commemorates the "falling asleep" or death of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her bodily resurrection before being taken up into heaven.

Following is what Wikipedia says about the differences and similarities between the feasts of Dormition and Assumption.

The Orthodox Church teaches that Mary died a natural death, like any human being; that her soul was received by Christ upon death; and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her repose, at which time she was taken up, bodily only, into heaven. Her tomb was found empty on the third day.

Roman Catholic teaching holds that Mary was "assumed" into heaven in bodily form. Some Catholics agree with the Orthodox that this happened after Mary's death, while some hold that she did not experience death. Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (1950), which dogmatically defined the Assumption, appears to have left open the question of whether or not Mary actually underwent death in connection with her departure, but alludes to the fact of her death at least five times.

Both traditions agree that she was taken up into heaven bodily. The Orthodox belief regarding Mary's falling asleep are expressed in the liturgical texts used for the Feast of the Dormition (August 15) which is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, and is held by all pious Orthodox Christians; however, this belief has never been formally defined as dogma by the Orthodox Church nor made a precondition of baptism.

Above: Robert Caruso, pastor of Cornerstone Old Catholic Community, and his partner John.

For my September 2007 interview with Robert about Old Catholicism and, among other things, its progressive stance on homosexuality and same-sex relationships, click here.

Above (from left): Phil, Brittany, Mary, Emily, John, John, Paula, Robert, and Doug - August 15, 2010.

Following is an excerpt from Eugene Kennedy's August 15 National Catholic Reporter reflection on the Dormition/Assumption (with thanks to to Phillip for bringing this reflection to my attention).

This feast has warm associations in many Catholic traditions in which it has accented the wonder and mystery, the sacramentality we might say, of midsummer. With an eye on their ripening fields the Irish knew it as Lady’s Day in August and Americans, with an eye on their seaside holidays, found spiritual renewal in getting into the water on that day. It is as if such customs recognized that the Mystery of the Feast spoke mysteriously and deeply to believers who were moved by its symbolism rather than its historical character.

. . . The Assumption invites us to tap into the vein of rich spiritual ore that runs just beneath the surface of a teaching that is radically diminished when it is presented literally as if by a reporter breathlessly describing the launch of a space vehicle from Cape Canaveral, “We have lift-off.”

Was it an accident of history or a powerfully symbolic underscoring of the relevance of this teaching that Pope Pius XII proclaimed it in 1950 at the very heart of the tumultuous twentieth century? Graham Greene drew on his novelist’s sensitivity to symbol in an essay in then newsstand dominant LIFE magazine. After two World Wars and the Holocaust, among other horrors of the first half of the century, the pope was responding to the world wide need for a reaffirmation of the dignity of the human body and the sacredness of human personality. Greene understood that the real meaning of the Assumption was found not in tightly bound literalism but in the overflow of a Mystery that, as a mother would have it, concerned us as much as her.

While some Protestants pulled back from the declaration as hardly conducive to ecumenical relations, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung considered it the most important religious declaration of the twentieth century. As a master of the mythological river that nourished what he termed our “collective unconscious,” Jung grasped the profound and fitting symbolism of such a declaration at mid-century.

The world had already turned its attention toward the endless vistas and wonder of space and astronauts would leave boot marks on the moon’s surface a generation later. The Swiss scholar sensed that the Assumption symbolized the mystery of human destiny and the end of the pre-Copernican era at the same time. The Assumption was a mythological and therefore a spiritual symbol of a Mystery in which we are still caught up. There was another numinous layer beyond the celebration of Mary and the confirmation of human dignity.

The Assumption proclaimed the Mystery of the century, the return of Mother Earth to the Heavens and the end, therefore, of the split between Earth and Heaven and all the divisions, such as between flesh and spirit, that flowed from that. It heralded the unity of the universe and the unity of human personality. That is the richest and perhaps least plumbed aspect of this feast. The wonder is that the Assumption is rich and deep enough a Mystery to accommodate these various levels of understanding all at the same time. Midsummer allows us to savor its Mystery in many ways and to understand how much we lose when we limit our religious understanding only to the concrete literal level.

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Divine Feminine Assumes Her Place – Louis A. Ruprecht (Religion Dispatches, August 20, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 1)
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 2)
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 3)
Robert Caruso's Scholarly Introduction to Old Catholicism
Celebrating the Risen Christ - Old Catholic Style


Phillip Clark said...

I hope and pray that you had a wonderful feast of the Dormition/Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. As the feast drew around I was reflecting upon whether we should be taking the feast as a literal event or rather as a symbolic message - such as Eugene Kennedy proposes in a recent NCR piece - used to encourage all of the faithful that we shall all share in Christ's Resurrection at the ends of our lives and be transformed body and soul to share in the eternal communion with God that is the beatific vision.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks so much, Phillip, for alerting me to Eugene Kennedy's NCR piece. I've added an excerpt from it to my post.



Mareczku said...

Thanks for sharing this beautiful article, Michael. It was very uplifting and informative. It is interesting to hear how other groups view this and celebrate this feast.