So, Catholics have these things called holy days of obligation. They are days that not only commemorate but participate in certain events or people in the history of the Church that are so important they obligate us to attend to them every year. Every single Sunday is a holy day of obligation, participating in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ (which is why it’s such a big deal to miss Mass). Several weeks ago we had one for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Rude of you to wonder why it takes so long for me to write about things). The Assumption celebrates our belief that when Mary’s life on earth was over she was assumed by God, body and soul, into Heaven. This is one of the Catholic Church’s four Marian doctrines that freak Protestants out—one part of “oh, you know, all that Mary stuff” which prevents interested Protestants from converting. (Though, in my experience, most people who say that have never heard of the Assumption and are referring to a vague idea that Catholics worship Mary. At least that’s all I meant when I said it years back.)
Traditionally, people bring herbs and fruits into the church to be blessed on the Assumption. Sidenote: I love getting things blessed, and I don’t care who knows it. When my old priest told me he was going to be blessing animals a couple years ago I excitedly told him I’d bring Bunny (my rabbit, full name: Lyonet Cordelia Bunny). He chuckled, rather rudely I think, and told me that pet blessings are usually just for kids. Psh. I’ll take as many blessings as I can get—and I’ll try anything to curb Bunny’s wayward, litter-kicking nature.
So, when my friends told me that a local church was having a blessing before their vigil Mass, I was all over it. Which is of course to say that I dutifully brought fruit and herbs to work so I could go straight to the blessing…then got there late and missed my opportunity to bring my produce up with the other children. Luckily a friend brought extra plants, so I scored some blessed basil, thyme, and sage—which are currently living blessed lives in a window box outside my backdoor. Well, except the thyme. Blessed or not, I have already managed to kill the thyme.
I caught most of the blessing, which was beautiful. A lot of parishes don’t do the Assumption blessing of fruits and herbs anymore, and I think that’s lame. I love how the life of the Church interacts with, incorporates, and expounds the life and rhythms of the natural world. Here are two of my favorite prayers from the blessing:
Let us pray. Almighty everlasting God, who by your word alone brought into being the heavens, earth, sea, things seen and things unseen, and garnished the earth with plants and trees for the use of man and beast; who appointed each species to bring forth fruit in its kind, not only for the food of living creatures, but for the healing of sick bodies as well; with mind and word we urgently call on you in your great kindness to bless these various herbs and fruits, thus increasing their natural powers with the newly given grace of your blessing. May they keep away disease and adversity from men and beasts who use them in your name; through Christ our Lord.
Let us pray. God, who on this day raised up to highest heaven the rod of Jesse, the Mother of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that by her prayers and patronage you might communicate to our mortal nature the fruit of her womb, your very Son; we humbly implore you to help us use these fruits of the soil for our temporal and everlasting welfare, aided by the power of your Son and the prayers of His glorious Mother; through Christ our Lord.
How wonderful. Even our plants can be latched onto the movement of grace manifest in Mary and Christ. Traditions and blessings like this make me aware of how rich our experience of the natural world can be if we allow and pursue it. Hopkin’s “God’s Grandeur” and all that.
Instead of these pleasant thoughts, though, my catechism reading group (SOCRG) ended up discussing what the Assumption reveals about the nature of death rather than the nature of Mary when we met to celebrate the feast. We discussed whether or not Mary died when she was assumed. We couldn’t quite determine what it would mean to be assumed without death—her body being separated from her soul? It seems most people assume (sorry) that Mary died (the Orthodox call the feast the Dormition of the Theotokos), but the Catechism is fairly ambiguous on the point.
We all generally agreed that it doesn’t really matter one way or another; as far as Mary’s perfect obedience, holiness, requiring of our hyperdulia, etc., goes. But we (or at least most of us) were intrigued by the implications of a death vs. no death Assumption has for…you know, death—and original sin, and Mary’s set-apartedness, among other things. Did God grant Mary the grace of never having to die—as a second Eve who without original sin would not have died? OR, did God grant Mary the grace of following her Son through death, as she was not able to do during her sorrows at the foot of the cross? Or does none of that even apply to a bodily assumption, which might inherently include death? One of us suggested Mary might have desired to follow her Son even through death and God might have granted that desire as a grace. I suggested that death sucks—taking issue with death as a grace, rather than an evil which has been turned to good. Tangents included the development of doctrine, as necessarily hierarchical but not in a way which makes older doctrines better than what’s going on now, Marian hymns, Christ’s crucifixion being the apex of Mary’s suffering (as opposed to her own death), and a lot of other things as usual. We also talked about Sister Act. So, it was a good night.
We ordered pizza so everyone could go to Mass before dinner (holy day of obligation and all), so there are no recipes to share. I realize that this blog has gotten far too heavy on DIY theology and far too light on recipe sharing, but that is all to change soon!