THE VIGIL OF THE ASSUMPTION
What is this aurora before which the brightest constellations pale? Laurence, who has been shining in the August heavens as an incomparable star, is well nigh eclipsed, and becomes but the humble satellite of the Queen of Saints, whose triumph is preparing beyond the clouds. Mary stayed on earth after her Son’s Ascension, in order to give birth to His Church; but she could not remain forever in exile. Yet she was not to take her flight to heaven until this new fruit of her maternity had acquired the growth and strength which it belongs to a mother to give. How sweet to the Church was this dependence! A privilege given to her members by our Lord in imitation of Himself (Carnalia in te Christus libera suxit, ut per te nobis spiritualia flnerent.–RICHARD, a S. VICTORE, in Cant. Cap. xxiii). As we saw, at Christmas time, the God-Man carried first in the arms of his Mother, gathering his strength and nourishing his life at her virginal breast: so the mystical body of the Man-God, the holy Church, received, in its first years, the same care from Mary, as the divine Child our Emmanuel.
As Joseph heretofore at Nazareth, Peter was now ruling the house of God; but our Lady was none the less to the assembly of the faithful the source of life in the spiritual order, as she had been to Jesus in His Humanity. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost and every one of His gifts rested first upon her in all fullness; every grace bestowed on the privileged dwellers in the cenacle was given more eminently and more abundantly to her. The sacred stream of the river maketh the city of God joyful, because first of all the Most High has sanctified His own tabernacle, made her the well of living waters, which run with a strong stream from Libanus.
Eternal Wisdom herself is compared in the Scripture to overflowing waters; to this day, the voice of her messengers traverses the world, magnificent, as the voice of the Lord over the great waters, as the thunder which reveals his power and majesty: like a new deluge overturning the ramparts of false science, levelling every height raised against God and fertilizing the desert. O fountain of the gardens hiding thyself so calm and pure in Sion, the silence which keeps thee from the knowledge of the profane, hides from their sullied eyes the source of thy wavelets which carry salvation to the farthest limits of the Gentile world. To thee, as to the Wisdom sprung from thee, is applied the prophetic word: I have poured out rivers (Eccli. xxiv. 40). Thou givest to drink to the new-born Church thirsting for the Word. Thou art, as the Holy Spirit said of Esther, thy type: “The little fountain which grew into a river, and was turned into a light, and into the sun, and abounded into many waters (Esther x. 6).” The Apostles, inundated with divine science, recognized in thee the richest source, which having once given to the world the Lord God, continued to be the channel of His grace and truth to them.
As a mountain spreads out at its base in proportion to the greatness of its height, the incomparable dignity of Mary rested on her ever growing humility. Nevertheless we must not think that the Mother of the Church was to be nothing more than a silent winner of heaven’s favours. The time had come for her to communicate to the friends of the Spouse the ineffable secrets known to her virginal soul alone; and as to the public facts of our Saviour’s history, what memory surer or more complete than hers, what deeper understanding of the mysteries of salvation, could furnish the Evangelists with the inspiration and the matter of their sublime narrations? How could the chiefs of the Christian people not consult in every undertaking the heavenly prudence of her, whose judgment could never be obscured by the least error, any more than her soul could be tarnished by the least fault? Thus, although her gentle voice was never heard abroad, although she loved to put herself in the shade and take the last place in their assemblies, Mary was truly from that time forward, as the Doctors observe, the scourge of heresy, the mistress of the Apostles and their beloved inspirer. “If,” says Rupert (Rupert in Cant. i), “the Holy Ghost instructed the Apostles, we must not therefore conclude that they had not recourse to the most sweet teaching of Mary. Yea, rather, her word was to them the word of the Spirit Himself; she completed and confirmed the inspirations received by each one from Him Who divideth as He wills.” And St. Ambrose, the illustrious Bishop of Milan, speaking of the privilege of the beloved disciple at the last Supper, does not hesitate to attribute the greater sublimity of his teachings to his longer and more intimate intercourse with our Lady: “This beloved of the Lord, who, resting on His bosom, drank from the depths of Wisdom, I am not astonished that he has explained divine mysteries better than all the others, for the treasure of heavenly secrets hidden in Mary, was ever open to him (Amber. De Instit. virg. vii).”
Happy were the faithful of those days, permitted to contemplate the ark of the covenant, wherein, better than on tables of stone, dwelt the plenitude of the law of love! At her side, the rod of the new Aaron, the sceptre of Simon Peter, kept its vigour and freshness, and under her shadow the true manna of heaven was accessible to the elect of this world’s desert. Denis of Athens, Hierotheus, both of whom we shall soon see again beside this holy ark, and many others, came to the feet of Mary to rest on their journey, to strengthen their love, to consult the august propitiatory where the divinity had resided. From the lips of the Mother of God, they gathered words sweeter than honey, calming their souls, ordering their life, filling their noble minds with the brightness of heaven. To these privileged ones of the first age might be addressed those words of the Spouse, who in these years was completing His gathering from His chosen garden: I have gathered my myrrh with my aromatical spices: I have eaten the honeycomb with my honey: I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends, and drink, and be inebriated, my dearly beloved (Cant. v. 1).
No wonder that in Jerusalem, favoured with so august a presence, the first group of faithful rose unanimously above the observance of the precepts to the perfection of the counsels; they persevered in prayer, praising God in gladness and simplicity of heart, having favour with all the people; and they were of one heart and one soul. This happy community could not but be an image of heaven on earth, since the Queen of heaven was a member of it; the example of her life, her all-powerful intercession, her merits more vast than all the united treasures of all created sanctities, was Mary’s contribution to this blessed family where all things were common to all. From the hill of Sion, however, the Church had spread its branches over every mountain and every sea; the vineyard of the Pacific King was extended among all nations; it was time to let it out to the keepers appointed to guard it for the Spouse. It was a solemn moment; a new phase in the history of our salvation was about to begin: Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the friends hearken: make me hear thy voice (Cant. viii. 13). The Spouse, the Church on earth, the Church in heaven, all were waiting for her, who had tended the vine and strengthened its roots, to utter a word such as that which had heretofore brought down the Spouse to earth. But today heaven, not earth, was to be the gainer. Flee away, O my beloved (Ibid. 14); it was the voice of Mary about to follow the fragrant footsteps of the Lord her Son, up to the eternal mountains whither her own perfumes had preceded her.
Let us enter into the sentiments of the Church, who prepares by the fasting and abstinence of this Vigil to celebrate the triumph of Mary. Man may not venture to join on earth in the joys of heaven, without first acknowledging that he is a sinner and a debtor to the justice of God.
O God, Who didst vouchsafe to choose for Thy habitation the virginal womb of the Blessed Mary, grant, we beseech thee, that, defended by her protection, we may joyfully assist at her festival. Who livest, &c.
To this Collect of the Vigil let us add, with the Holy Liturgy, the commemoration of a holy Confessor, whose imprisonment and sufferings at Rome, in the time of the Arians, made him well-nigh equal to the martyrs. As he is honoured with a Church in the eternal City, Eusebius is entitled to the homage of the whole world.
O God, Who givest us joy by the annual solemnity of the blessed Eusebius, Thy confessor, mercifully grant, that celebrating his festival, we may approach to Thee by following his example. Through our Lord, &c.
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.