FROM THE RECTOR: ASSUMPTION STUDY
I wake up very early most Sunday mornings to rework my sermons. On Sunday, June 29, when I got up I turned on the broadcast of the papal Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica. It was the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. I caught the very end of it. A patriarch, perhaps Russian, was a guest—later I couldn’t discover online who it was. At the end of the Mass he accompanied Pope Francis to the statue of Peter in the nave. It’s thought to be from the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century. Though dressed in the style of his own time, the statue depicts Peter giving a blessing with his right hand, held in the manner of bishops in centuries to come, and holding two keys in his left. It’s traditional for pilgrims to touch Peter’s feet, and they show the marks of centuries of devotion.
On this festival the statue is dressed with a gold cope and a papal tiara. But I found myself wondering what an extraordinary ecumenical gesture might have been made if the crown and robe had been left in storage, at least this year.
As I look forward to the celebration of the Assumption of Mary here on Friday this week, I find myself wondering what really lies behind the devotion to Mary that comes through time. So I’ve turned again to liturgical scholars Paul Bradshaw and Maxwell Johnson. The last chapter of their book The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity (2011) is all about the mother of Jesus. They conclude this chapter (and their book) with these words, “Again, as with devotion to the martyrs and saints, the building blocks of a later popular and liturgical Marian piety appear quite early” (214).
The earliest documentation we have of the celebration of a feast in honor of Mary is found in the lectionary of the Armenian community in Jerusalem from the first half of the fifth century. The entry begins: “Com. MARY THEOTOKOS, at Second Mile from Jerusalem, 15 August.” Theotokos is usually translated as “God-bearer.” Another translation is “Birth-giver of God” (Origins, 204).
French liturgical scholar Pierre Jounel (1914–2004) wrote that the designation “Second Mile from Jerusalem” referred to the practice of Christians in Jerusalem to celebrate festivals at places associated with the events recorded in the gospel. The Eucharist was celebrated in a basilica built where “according to tradition Mary paused to rest before going on to Bethlehem” (Origins, 207). That said, Bradshaw and Johnson note, “no one has been able to offer conclusive arguments beyond speculation as to why 15 August in particular became the date of this feast” (207). There is some evidence that suggests the date may be tied to early celebrations of Christ’s nativity. If I have the chance, I would like to ask if the lessons in the Armenian lectionary might be suggestive as well.
The scriptures listed in the lectionary for “Mary Theotokos” are familiar, but with the exception of the reading from Galatians, different from the ones we will hear at Mass on Friday this week:
Entrance Psalm 132 (Lord, remember David) with the Antiphon (Arise, O Lord, into your resting-place)
Isaiah 7:10-15 (Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son)
Galatians 3:29-4:7 (God sent forth his Son, born of woman)
Alleluia & Psalm 110:1 (The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand”)
Luke: 2:1-7 (And while they were there . . . she gave birth to her first-born son)
Richard Clifford in his notes to the psalms describes Psalm 132 as, “A royal psalm narrating in four stanzas David’s desire to be affirmed as king and to transfer the ark-throne of the Lord to Zion” and Psalm 110 as “A royal psalm in which a court official cites promises of victory made to the Davidic king” (New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, 4th ed. [Oxford University Press, 2010] 866, 881). Both would have been understood as being about who Jesus is and how Mary was part of God’s plan for humankind. Mark, Matthew and Luke quote Jesus asking, “David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?” (Mark 12:37a—see also Matthew 22:45; Luke 20:44).
We will hear a lesson from Isaiah also on Friday, but it was selected so we would think more about Mary, unlike the lesson from the early lectionary where Christians hear prophetic words about Mary and Jesus. For the gospel on Friday we will hear the Song of Mary. In the Armenian lectionary the gospel is from Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.
When I think about what we actually know about Jesus and Mary, I am taken back to God’s profound and enduring love for humankind through the mystery of the gifts of life and death and eternal life. The Feast of the Assumption is a joyful celebration also of Jesus’ love for his mother. It’s a joyful celebration of God’s love for all of us—and as always it will be very joyful here. I hope you can be with us.—Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Charles, Donn, Suzanne, Reha, Rebecca, Burt, John, McNeil, David, Takeem, Sylvia, Rick, Jack, Linda, Arpene, Paulette, priest, and Harry, priest; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . August 10: 1880 James Hamilton Baggett; 1896 Louise Parsons; 1898 Ruth Garrow; 1925 Helen Louis Morris, Leonora Sheldon Smith; 1929 Margaret Gentles Grant; 1930 Edward Joseph Fath; 1932 Frederick Kent Dohrman; 1964 Harry Davidson Adger; 1980 Lillian May Doughley.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR . . . are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Friday, August 15: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Organ Recital 5:30 PM, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, August 9, at 11:30 AM by Father Pace and at 4:00 PM by Father Gerth. Confessions will be heard on Saturday, August 16, by Father Pace.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Charles Arthur Schaefer is gravely ill. He is not able to receive visitors. Please keep him and his partner Donn Russell in your prayers . . . Donations are still needed for the reception following the Solemn Mass on the Feast of the Assumption . . . Sister Laura Katherine returns this week from vacation on Thursday, August 14 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 181, Transfiguration 112.
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . At Solemn Mass this Sunday two distinct American composers grace our liturgy. Raymond H. Haan was born in Michigan in 1938. He is a graduate of Calvin College and the University of Michigan. Mr. Haan is the Director of Music for the Cutlerville East Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, a position he has held since 1960. He is the composer of some four hundred compositions for organ, voice, choir, hand bells, piano and other instruments. His particular genius lies in his ability to write in any style, imitating Baroque and Romantic techniques as well as writing in a thorough engaging modern style. He is perhaps best known for a number of well constructed choral works that set essential new texts to music. Both prelude and postlude are of his composing. Richard Hundley (b. 1931) is a native of Cincinnati and was a one-time student at the Manhattan School of Music. He sang in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, and while there was able to introduce a number of his art songs to singers he met. His music is now widely performed, including performances at New York’s Town Hall and the Newport Music Festival. In 1987, Hundley was declared one of the standard American composers for vocalists by the International American Music Competition. At the ministration of Holy Communion on Sunday we will hear his setting of Rise, My Love, from the Song of Solomon sung by tenor Chris Howatt . . . For the Assumption the setting of the Mass ordinary will be by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548–1611), recognizably the greatest Spanish composer of the late Renaissance. Victoria’s music, some of the most technically solid in the repertoire, is also some of the most perfectly suited to its purpose and stands totally in accord with the requirements of the Tridentine Rite. This is catholic music by definition ancient and modern. In the preface to his 1583 book of masses, Victoria wrote: “I undertook for preference the setting of that which is universally celebrated in the Church . . . for what should music serve rather than the holy praise of the immortal God from whom number and measure proceed, whose works are wonderfully ordered by a kind of harmony and consonance?” Since Victoria was by profession both priest and musician, it stands to reason that he wrote only sacred music, but it should never be thought that it was all somber. Here is music which is at once joyful, passionately expressive and engaging, yet completely indicative of a mature faith. It is particularly fitting that we should present Missa Ave Regina coelorum for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary here. At the ministration of Communion, we hear the brilliant five-voice motet on the same Antiphon of the Blessed Virgin Mary that inspired the Mass we hear this evening, but from the Englishman, Peter Philips (1560–1628), who fled England at the height of the persecution of Roman Catholics, was implicated in a conspiracy to kill Queen Elizabeth I, was imprisoned, but upon release in 1597, moved to Brussels where he became organist of the royal chapel of Archduke Albert of Austria. He subsequently took holy orders, and in 1610 he was appointed to a canonry in Belgium.—Mark Peterson
OUTREACH . . . We welcome donations of hand sanitizer; granola bars; applesauce, sold in small, plastic cups with peel-off tops; water; peanut butter and crackers; and other small items that can be packed in bags for distribution to those who are homeless . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please place your donations in the basket near the ushers’ table on Sunday mornings. You may also make cash donations.