Monday, August 22, 2016

Between Easter and the End

Today, the octave day of the Assumption, the Church celebrates the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, complementing and completing the 4th glorious mystery, Mary's assumption, with the 5th, her queenly "coronation." In 1953, when Pope Pius XII's Commission for the Reform of the Sacred Liturgy was debating whether to support the establishment of this popularly requested feast, its introduction was seen as presenting the Mother of God in the context of the fullness of her glory. At a subsequent session early in 1954, the future Cardinal Bea further related Mary's Queenship to her continued role in the Church. 

The modern evolution of this date is its own tale of liturgical change and counter-change. Originally the Octave Day of the Assumption, August 22 became the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary during World War II. Devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart (originally popularized by Saint John Eudes, whom we celebrated just last week) increased in popularity especially in the 20th century particularly after Our Lady's apparitions at Fatima. The post-conciliar calendar reform relocated the Immaculate Heart of Mary to the Saturday after the solemnity of the Sacred Heart, a logical parallelism already reflected in the popular piety that pairs the devotion of the (9) 1st Fridays and the (5) 1st Saturdays. August 22 then became free for the more obviously Assumption-related festival of the Queenship of Mary, originally introduced by Pope Pius XII during the 1954 Marian Year and assigned by him to May 31. Although the liturgical celebration of the Assumption Octave itself is now 60 years gone (along with most other octaves), the logic of the Octave is acknowledged (implicitly at least) in the current calendar's deliberate alignment of this feast with that of the Assumption. (If the traditional May Crowning were not so popular and so strongly established in the popular imagination as a May event, it would really be much more logical to have such a celebration today rather than in May.)

More important than its liturgical history, however, Mary's Queenship completes the Assumption with a renewed focus of Mary's intercession in the present on our behalf.  O God, who made the Mother of your Son to be our Mother and our Queen, graciously grant that, sustained by her intercession, we may attain in the heavenly Kingdom the glory promised to your children.  That concept was also already prominent in the pre-1950 feast of the Assumption. But then the new Mass text created on the occasion of the dogmatic definition naturally highlighted the specific doctrinal content of that definition (a case, so to speak, of lex credendi dictating lex orandi.)

Complementing that development, the intercessory dimension of Mary's continued role in the Church in the fullness of her glory was highlighted in the Office of the 1954 feast by a sermon of Saint Bonaventure (1221-1274), in which he spoke of God's grace coming to us through Mary "as through an aqueduct." Bonaventure presented Mary as a Queen who "sues for forgiveness, overcomes strife, distributes grace, and as a result leads us to glory." Instead of Saint Bonaventure, the post-conciliar Office features a homily by Saint Amadeus of Lausanne (1110-1159), who likewise presents Mary, if not as a classical aqueduct, then as a kind of irrigation channel. "With divine assistance she has redirected these waters [that flow down from Mount Zion] and made them into streams of peace and pools of grace."

The doctrine of the assumption highlights Mary's participation in her Son's glory, an anticipation of our own eventual participation in that glory. But the imagery of her queenship appropriates that glory for us in Mary's continued role in the Church on our behalf - in the here and now between Easter and the end.

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