Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cristóbal de Morales: Missa Benedicta est regina caelorum

It's the Gloria from the "Blessed is the Queen of Heaven Mass," in honor of today's Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.


From the wonderful Full Homely Divinity website:

The Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin - Marymas
August 15th

O God, who hast taken to thyself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thy incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for the feast, 1979 BCP)

The feast days of the saints are often referred to as their "heavenly birthdays" since they ordinarily celebrate the day when the saint died and thus passed into the new life of the Kingdom of Heaven.  No one illustrates this better than the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tradition relates that, when the time of her death drew near, all of the apostles gathered in Jerusalem to be with her--all except Thomas, who was preaching the Gospel in India and was unable to return to Jerusalem in time. The apostles gathered around her in a house on Mount Zion, near the Upper Room where they had shared the Last Supper with Jesus and had also received the Holy Spirit with Mary on Pentecost. In the charming medieval carving at the left, John still appears quite youthful, standing on the near side of her bed. Peter is wearing glasses and is reading to her. When she died, the apostles carried her to a tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane, which, tradition says, belonged to Mary's family. 

Some time later, the apostles discovered that Mary's tomb was empty. This was not like the Resurrection of Jesus: Mary was not raised from the dead and did not appear to the apostles after her death; nor did an angel announce the news. Rather, her tomb was simply empty and they concluded that she had been taken directly into heaven ("assumed"), in much the same way that scripture and tradition attest that the greatest saints of the Old Testament--Enoch, Moses, and Elijah--were taken up bodily. In time, Thomas returned from India and the apostles told him what had happened, together with their conviction that Mary had been assumed into heaven. According to this tradition, Thomas once again played the role of the doubter and insisted that he would have to see the evidence before he would believe. At this point, we may perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the tradition is a bit unfair to Thomas. It hardly seems possible that this apostle who had traveled far and risked much to share his faith would make the same mistake twice. Nevertheless, the tradition has him going to the tombEntrance to the Medieval Basilica over the Tomb of Mary of Mary where, instead of her body, he found the tomb full of fragrant flowers--one version of the tradition says the flowers were roses and lilies. And then, looking up, he saw Mary herself, going up to heaven. Looking back, she saw Thomas and dropped the girdle which had tied her robe and an angel delivered it into the hands of Thomas.

It was not until 1950 that the Assumption of Mary was defined as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed that "the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven." In reality, however, this dogma was nothing new. It simply made it a matter of obligation for Roman Catholics to believe what many Christians have always believed, namely, that God had "taken to himself," for eternity, the blessed woman who had borne his incarnate Son in time. All believers look forward to "the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come." At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the emperor asked the patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople so that they could be enshrined at what was then the center of the world. The patriarch replied that there were no relics because, as he said, the apostles had found that her tomb was empty and her body had been assumed into heaven: she had already gone where we all hope to go.

Some Christians have difficulty with this idea because it is not in the Bible (though, as we have already noted, the Bible does tell of others who have been assumed, body and soul, into heaven). Nevertheless, Mary's role in our salvation, and her particular relationship with God is a pivotal one on our behalf. Her "yes" to the Archangel Gabriel opened the way for God to take on our humanity, to become fully one with us in the flesh. As an ancient prayer says, God humbled himself to share our humanity in order that we might share in his divinity. In the moment that Mary said "yes" to God's plan, she was already one with God in a unique way, bearing within her body God himself. A connection such as this transcends by far the intimacy of human relationships. Indeed, it reaches beyond death--and so the Church believes.

At the Council of Ephesus in 431, Mary was given the title "Theotokos"--"God-bearer" or "Mother of God." Nestorius taught that the divinity and humanity of Jesus were distinct and never mingled, so that Mary was "Christotokos," the mother of the man Jesus, but not the mother of God incarnate. The teaching of Nestorius was rejected by the Council and Mary has been known ever since as Theotokos, in token of the fact that she carried God himself in her womb, and continued ever after to share a special union with him, both in life and in death. In the West, Mary's feast on August 15th is called the Assumption. In the East it is called Koimesis--"Dormition" or "Falling Asleep." Both titles areRussian Icon of the Dormition - 19th century somewhat vague about the details. Indeed, in spite of the tradition concerning Thomas's vision of her ascent into heaven, the Church is officially silent on the way in which she got there. What is clear is that, as our Collect says, God took Mary to himself, to be with him and one with him for ever. And that is what we celebrate on this day.

There are two places in Jerusalem associated with the end of Mary's earthly life. One is the basilica in the Garden of Gethsemane (above) which houses her tomb. The other is a monastery on Mount Zion on the traditional site of her falling asleep. Dormition is the name the community of German Benedictines have given to the Abbey that crowns Mount Zion. A life-sized sculpture of the Theotokos in the crypt of the Abbey church shows the influence of traditional Byzantine iconography. In the traditional Orthodox icon, Jesus himself is depicted, standing by his Mother as she falls asleep, and holding her soul, like a child, in his arm.

Taking its cue from the experience of Thomas at the tomb of Mary, the celebration of this feast includes the blessing of fragrant flowers and herbs. Flowers have always been associated with Mary in a particular way. She is the Mystical Rose and many flowers are named for her or have popular names that relate to her. Here is a link describing many of Mary's flowers. And here is another link to a slide show with more information about Mary's flowers and Mary Gardens. A Mary Garden is a place to honor the Mother of God, as well as a place to go for quiet reflection and prayer. It could also provide a setting for your Easter Garden.  Mary Gardens may be found on the grounds of monasteries and churches, and also in the gardens of private homes. They are planted with flowers, herbs, and trees that are named for Mary or associated with her and her Son in scripture and tradition. They may also have statuary, icons, and other art and symbols that provide a focus for prayer and contemplation. Ideally, a Mary Garden is enclosed to provide a place truly set-apart, but even a dish garden can serve the purpose if properly used as a means of focusing prayer.

August is the wrong time to plant any kind of garden, but Marymas would be a good day to begin planning and marking out a Mary Garden. Some plants and seeds and bulbs do best if planted in the fall, and others can be added in the spring. Here is a link that will help you choose appropriate plants for your Mary Garden. In addition to the online resources linked above, Vincenzina Krymow's book Mary's Flowers is a beautifully illustrated text about the flowers associated with Mary and their legends. It includes information about how to create your own Mary Garden. Krymow has also written a companion volume, Healing Plants of the Bible. (Click here to find both of these books in our Bookshop.)

Llandaff Cathedral in Wales has a unique variation on a Mary Garden which we like a lot: each of the niches in the reredos of the Lady Chapel has a sculpture of a flower named in Welsh in honor of Mary.

From ancient times, in every culture, herbs and various flowers have been known to have healing properties. The blessing of herbs and flowers on Marymas is a way of "baptizing" the wisdom of traditional healing and combining it with the Christian wisdom that recognizes that God is the true source of healing and that salvation (wholeness) is ultimately found only in the Son of Mary, Jesus Christ. Thus, it was customary for the faithful to bring bunches of herbs and wild flowers to church on this day. They were blessed at the beginning of the Eucharist and then taken home to be used for healing and protection through the coming year. For the renewal of this tradition, an abbreviated form of the traditional prayers are found on our Marymas Prayers page (click on the title).

In many parishes and especially at shrines, this is a day for processions and for celebrations that continue after the liturgical observances have been completed. Traditionally, working people had a holiday from work, so that there were also family celebrations. Today, we must be more creative about marking these holidays in our homes, and it may be necessary to transfer some of the celebration to the weekend in order to keep the spirit of a fully homely divinity alive and healthy. If your parish does not have a procession on this day, or if you are unable to attend, why not have a family procession? Hymn singing does not require an organ for accompaniment, and does not need to rival the Kings College Choir in order to praise God in joyful song. (You will find an assortment of good hymns on our Sing of Mary page.) Homemade banners can be as simple as strips of cloth waved by children, or as elaborate as those with greater skills can make them. Our homes can be filled with fragrant flowers and herbs. In the northern hemisphere, this is an outdoor feast. If you do not have a Mary Garden, any garden or park will serve--even the back porch, fitted out with potted plants and cut flowers and herbs, will serve quite well.

An especially good, yet relatively simple way to celebrate this feast is to have a tea party. A festive table can be set in your version of a Mary Garden, which is already full of flowers. Perhaps a few Mary flowers could be put in a small vase on the table. For drinks, we suggest teas that are scented with herbs or made entirely with herbs, as well as a fruit and herb punch from our friends at Catholic Culture that children will enjoy. For those who like old fashioned black teas, there are teas that are flavored with roses--a natural for the feast of the Mystical Rose. Earl Grey tea is another good choice as it is infused with Bergamot, a variety of Monarda, or Bee Balm, which is also known as Sweet Mary. For food, at the tea party, we suggest nasturtium sandwiches and strawberry shortcake. It is a little late in the season for local strawberries but, with modern refrigeration and transportation, it seems that almost any fresh fruit or vegetable can be obtained year-round. The strawberry was known as the "Fruitful Virgin" because it blooms and bears fruit at the same time. Another lovely European tradition says that the strawberry is sacred to Mary who accompanies children to keep them safe when they go strawberry picking on St. John's Day. The nasturtium is known as "St. Joseph's Flower." It is an edible flower and can be combined with cream cheese to make tea sandwiches. Tea should be accompanied by prayers appropriate to the occasion, such as the Collect of the Day which begins this article. Children should be told the story of Mary's heavenly birthday--how else will they learn it? Tomie de Paola's beautifully illustrated book Mary:The Mother of Jesus (available in our Bookshop) tells the story reverently and well. Finally, everyone will enjoy a walk in the garden which could easily be made into a game, with an award, such as a Mary-blue ribbon, for the person who identifies the most flowers and herbs that are named for Mary.

For more information about Mary on FHD, click on the links below and also visit our pages on Marymas Prayers and Sing to Mary

This is from that "Marymas Prayers" link:

Prayers for Marymas
(The Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin)

Walsingham PilgrimageMarymas (August 15th) is certainly a day for a procession and other festivities and prayers. The procession may be part of the liturgy and very grand, or it may be a family or neighborhood affair. A procession can be a parade for people to watch, or it might have a destination, such as a Mary Garden. A procession is a celebration, so it should be happy, not sombre. Still, it is always best for a procession to have litanies and hymns for people to participate in while they are walking. Otherwise, they may forget why they are are processing and wander off to the playground before the procession is over.

A litany is a form of prayer that is easy for large groups to participate in. A leader says the changing parts of the litany and the people respond with the same words, such as "Lord, have mercy" or "Pray for us" after each petition. A litany may be said or sung. The Litany of the Saints is always appropriate for church processions. There are also litanies that are just about Mary, and one of those would be especially appropriate on this day. In this Litany from Saint Augustine's Prayer Book, Mary is addressed by many of her traditional titles. In it, we call upon the the person who is the closest of all people to the heart of God, to pray for us.

Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

God the Father of Heaven,       
                              have mercy upon us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
                              have mercy upon us.
God the Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier, 
                              have mercy upon us.
Holy Trinity, One God,  
                              have mercy upon us.

Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us. 
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Mother of divine Grace, pray for us.
Mother most pure, pray for us.
Mother most chaste, pray for us.
Mother inviolate, pray for us.
Mother undefiled, pray for us.
Mother most amiable, pray for us.
Mother most admirable, pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, pray for us.
Mother of our Savior, pray for us.
Virgin most prudent, pray for us.
Virgin most venerable, pray for us.
Virgin most renowned, pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, pray for us.
Virgin most merciful, pray for us.
Virgin most faithful, pray for us.
Mirror of Justice, pray for us.   
Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.
Cause of our Joy, pray for us.
Spiritual vessel, pray for us.
Vessel of honor, pray for us.
Singular vessel of devotion, pray for us.
Mystical Rose, pray for us.
Tower of David, pray for us.
Tower of ivory, pray for us.
House of gold, pray for us.
Ark of the covenant, pray for us.
Gate of heaven, pray for us.
Morning star, pray for us.
Health of the sick, pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Comforter of the afflicted, pray for us.
Help of Christians, pray for us.
Queen of Angels, pray for us.
Queen of Patriarchs, pray for us.
Queen of Prophets, pray for us.
Queen of Apostles, pray for us.
Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
Queen of Confessors, pray for us.
Queen of Virgins, pray for us.
Queen of all Saints, pray for us.
Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
                         spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
                         hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
                         have mercy upon us.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an Angel, so, by his Cross and Passion, we may be brought unto the glory of his Resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Blessing of a Mary Garden

Almighty and everlasting God: We beseech thee to bless this garden that has been planted in honor of our most blessed and glorious Lady, the ever-Virgin Mary. Make it a place of tranquility and peace, and a pleasing commemoration of the goodness and virtue of thy dear Mother. May it be fragrant with the abundance of good things and a safe refuge where, through the prayers of the Theotokos, thy faithful people may find rest from their labors, comfort in their sorrow, and healing from their ills; through Jesus Christ, Son of Mary and Son of God, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Old Rose - Photo by Rodney Blackhirst

Blessing of Herbs on Marymas

V:  Our help is in the name of the Lord;
R:  Who hath made heaven and earth.

Psalm 65 may be said or sung

Let us pray.

Almighty, eternal God, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible: As thou didst command that the earth bring forth plants and trees for the use of men and animals, and that these plants should serve not only as food but as medicine in time of sickness, we beseech thee to bless these various herbs and plants which we now present unto thee;  

Holy Father, who on this day didst raise the root of Jesse, the mother of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to the heights of heaven: We humbly pray thee, that, by her intercession, these herbs may be for us a source of protection and a means of healing from all sickness and tribulation when we use them in Thy name.

Savior and Redeemer of humankind, grant that, wherever these herbs may be placed, they may be a potent means against sickness and pestilence, against the poison of serpents and the sting of poisonous animals, as also against the deceits, snares, and machinations of the devil; and grant that we may be made worthy to be received into heaven together with the most Blessed Virgin Mary and all thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Rosary

The rosary might best be described as a method of meditative prayer. It entails reciting certain fixed prayers for a set number of times and using those prayers as a kind of meditative background noise to blot out distractions while the person who is saying the rosary meditates prayerfully on a passage of scripture or other sacred subject. A string of beads is used to count the fixed prayers. The devotion was made popular by St. Dominic in the 12th century. The word rosary means "a garland of roses" and is a reference to Mary, the Mystical Rose, who is at the center of the mysteries which are meditated upon. The traditional rosary has been a popular devotion among Anglicans of a catholic frame of mind for many years.  A fuller description of how it works may be found by clicking here. Recently, some Anglicans have developed a variation on the traditional rosary which they call the Anglican rosary. Information about how it works may be found by clicking here.

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