You’ll forgive me, I hope, as usual, I am a few days late (we won’t talk about how many dollars short, OK?). In any case, the other day was the Feast of the Assumption, which used to be called, “Our Lady Day in Harvest”. You’ll find there is still another Lady Day next month. As per usual, I’m going to lean on my favorite Medievalist A Clerk of Oxford heavily here.
On þone fifteogðan dæg þæs monðes bið seo tid þæt is sancta Marian tid. On þone dæg heo geleorde of middangearde to Criste, ond heo nu scineð on þam heofonlican mægene betwyh þa þreatas haligra fæmnena, swa swa sunne scineð on þisne middangeard. Englas þær blissiað, ond heahenglas wynsumiað, ond ealle þa halgan þær gefeoð in sancta Marian. Sancta Maria wæs on feower ond sixtegum geara þa þa heo ferde to Criste. Sancta Maria is godfæder snoru ond godes suna modur ond haligra sauwla sweger ond seo æðele cwen þara uplicra cesterwara; seo stondeð on þa swyðran healfe þæs heahfæder ond þæs heahcyninges.
On the fifteenth day of the month is the feast which is St Mary’s feast. On this day she departed from the world to Christ, and now she shines in the heavenly host among the crowd of holy virgins, as the sun shines upon this middle-earth. Angels rejoice there, and archangels exult, and all the saints are glad with St Mary. St Mary was sixty-four years old when she went to Christ. St Mary is daughter-in-law of God the Father and the mother of God’s son, and mother-in-law of the holy souls and the noble queen of the citizens of heaven; she stands upon the right side of the great Father and High King.
She reminds us that all these feasts grew out of ancient traditions, some scriptural, some apocryphal, and some popular legend. Many of them were fully formed by the fifth century.
The Clerk tells us, “This is a translation of a text known as the Transitus Mariae, a widely-known apocryphal account of Mary’s life which circulated in several different versions and in multiple languages in the Middle Ages. The English translation comes from the tenth-century Blicking Homilies; it’s too long to give in full, but the whole text can be found at part 1 and part 2. ” Here is one excerpt that she gives us
& þa æfter þysum wordum þa com þær ure Drihten & he hie gemette ealle anmodlice wæccende, & he hie onlyhte mid his þæs Halgan Gastes gife. & he wæs cweþende to him, ‘Broþor þa leofestan, ne sy eow nænigu cearo þæt ge geseon þæt þeos eadige Maria sy geceged to deaþe, & ne biþ heo no to þæm eorþlican deaþe ac heo bið gehered mid Gode, forþon þe hire bið mycel wuldor gegearwod.’ & mid þy þe he þis gecweden hæfde, þa ascean samninga mycel leoht on hire huse þæt ealle þa fynd wæron oferswiþde þa þe þær wæron, & þa þe þæt leoht gesawon þa ne meahton asecgan for þæs leohtes mycelnesse. & þa wæs geworden mycel stefn of heofenum to Petre & wæs cweþende, ‘Ic beo mid eow ealle dagas oþ þa gyfylnesse þisse worlde.’ & þa ahof Petrus his stefne & wæs cweþende, ‘We bletsiaþ þinne naman mid urum saulum & we biddaþ þæt þu fram us ne gewite; & we bletsiaþ þe & we biddaþ þæt þu onlyhte ure world, for þæm þe þu eallum miltsast þæm þe on þe gelyfaþ.’ & þis wæs cweþende se eadiga Petrus to eallum þæm apostolum & he trymede heora heortan mid Godes geleafan.
Æfter þyssum wordum gefylde, þa wæs Maria arisende & wæs ut gangende of hire huse, & hie gebæd to þæm gebede þe se engel hire tocwæþ þe þær com to hire; þa þis gebed wæs gefylled þa wæs heo eft gangende on hire hus & heo þa wæs hleonigende ofer hire ræste, & æt hire heafdan sæt se eadiga Petrus & emb þa ræste oþre Cristes þegnas. & þa ær þære syxtan tide þæs dæges þa wæs semninga geworden mycel þunorrad, & þær wæs swiþe swete stenc swa þætte ealle þa slepan þe þær wæron. & þa apostolas onfengon þære eadigan Marian & þa þre fæmnan þe him Crist ær bebead, þæt hie wacedon buton forlætnesse & þæt hie cyþdon Drihtnes wuldor be hire & ealle medemnesse be þære eadigan Marian. Þa slepan þa ealle þe þær wæron; þa com þær semninga ure Drihten Hælend Crist þurh wolcnum mid myccle mengeo engla & wæs ingangende on þære halgan Marian hus on þæt þe heo hie inne reste. Michahel se heahengel se wæs ealra engla ealderman, he wæs ymen singende mid eallum þæm englum, mid þy þe Hælend wæs ingongende. Þa gemette he ealle þa apostolas emb þære eadigan Marian ræste, and he bletsode þa halgan Marian & wæs cweþende, Benedico te quia quicumque promisisti — ‘Ic þe bletsige min Sancta Maria; & eal swa hwæt swa ic þe gehet eal ic hit gesette.’ Ond þa andswarode him seo halige Maria & wæs cweþende, ‘Ic do a þine gife, min Drihten, & ic þe bidde for þinum naman þæt þu gehwyrfe on me ealle eaþmodnesse þinra beboda, forþon þe ic mæg don þine gife. Þu eart gemedemod on ecnesse.’ & þa onfeng ure Drihten hire saule & he hie þa sealde Sancte Michahele þæm heahengle, & he onfeng hire saule mid ealra hisleoma eaþmodnesse. & næfde heo noht on hire buton þæt an þæt heo hæfde mennisce onlicnesse; & heo hæfde seofon siþum beorhtran saule þonne snaw…þa cleopode semninga þære eadigan Marian lichoma beforan him eallum & wæs cweþende, ‘Wes þu gemyndig, þu gewuldroda Cyning, forþon ic beo þin hondgeweorc, & wes þu min gemyndig, forþon ic healde þinra beboda goldhord.’ & þa cwæþ ure Drihten to þære eadigan Marian lichoman, ‘Ne forlæte ic þe næfre min meregrot, ne ic þe næfre ne forlæte, min eorclanstan, forþon þe þu eart soþlice Godes templ.’
And then after these words our Lord came there, and found them all watching together, and he enlightened them with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and said to them, ‘Dearest brethren, have no sorrow because you see that this blessed Mary is called unto death; for she is not called to earthly death, but she shall be favoured by God, for great glory is prepared for her.’ And when he had said this, there suddenly shone a great light upon her house, so that all the fiends who were there and those who saw the light were overpowered, and were unable to speak because of the greatness of the light. And then came a loud voice from heaven to Peter, saying, ‘I am with you always unto the end of this world.’ And Peter lifted up his voice, and said, ‘We bless your name with our souls, and we beseech you never to depart from us; and we bless you and beseech you to bring light to our world, for you have mercy upon all those who believe in you.’ And blessed Peter said this to all the apostles, and he strengthened their hearts with the faith of God.
After he had finished these words, Mary arose and went out of her house, and she prayed the prayer that the angel who came to her had told her. When this prayer was finished, she returned to her house and rested on her bed, and at her head sat the blessed Peter, and about the bed Christ’s other disciples. And before the sixth hour of the day there suddenly came a loud thunder, and there was a very sweet smell, so that all that who were there slept, and the apostles and the three women, whom Christ had commanded to watch without intermission, took charge of the holy Mary, so that they should make known the glory of the Lord in her and all his kindness to the blessed Mary. And while all who were there were sleeping, our Lord Christ suddenly appeared there in a cloud with a great company of angels, and entered the house of the holy Mary where she was at rest. The Archangel Michael, the leader of all angels, was singing hymns with all the angels, as the Lord entered. He found all the apostles round the blessed Mary’s bed, and he blessed the holy Mary, and said, ‘Benedico te quia quæcumque promisisti — ‘I bless you, my holy Mary, and all I have promised you, I will perform.’ And holy Mary answered him, and said, ‘My Lord, I give forth your grace always, and I beseech you for your name’s sake that you grant me obdience to your commands, so that I may give forth your grace. You are honoured for ever.’ And then the Lord received her soul, and gave it to Saint Michael the archangel, and he received her soul with reverence in all his limbs. She had nothing upon her save only a human body, and she had a soul seven times brighter than snow…
Then suddenly the body of the blessed Mary cried out before them all, and said, ‘Remember, glorious King, that I am your handiwork; and be mindful of me, for I keep the gold-hoard of your commandments’. And then our Lord said to the blessed Mary’s body, ‘I will never leave you, my pearl; I will never leave you, my arkenstone, for truly you are the temple of God.’
The Clerk then sums up some on why Mary is so appealing to our ancestors, especially but not only women, saying this
Though they contain plenty of miracles and marvels and angels, they’re somehow very human and ordinary. At the heart of them is a woman, loving and much loved, whose life is traced from the first wonder of her conception to her peaceful death. In a sequence like that at Chalgrove, or in Ely’s Lady Chapel, or in the Book of Hours or the plays, Mary’s life is mapped out through domestic, everyday scenes: parents rejoicing in the birth of a longed-for baby; a little girl learning to read with her mother, or climbing the steps to the temple like a child on her first day at school; a teenage Mary with her female friends, happy with her baby, at her churching, or in the last days of her life. These were familiar rituals of childhood and motherhood which resonated with medieval audiences – with women especially, but not only women. They are completely relatable, not only for mothers like Margery Kempe but for anyone who has ever had a mother, ever been a child, and there’s something beautiful about elevating such ordinary family relationships to the dignity of high art. In these scenes Mary is not an unapproachably distant figure but a woman imagined in relationship to others: a daughter, wife, mother, friend. In particular, the story of her passing is full of other people and their love for her – the apostles and her friends gathering around her bedside, Christ cradling her soul in his arms like a child. She is unique, but never alone.
And you know, when I was introduced to her, mostly here as Our Lady of Walsingham, that is what drew me to her. I don’t care who you are, the Son of God can appear intimidating, even if He tries very hard not to be. But it is different with His mom, somehow we can more easily talk with her, she’s just more sympathetic. A lot of this was lost at the Reformation, although there is little in our documents precluding her. Luther, particularly, venerated her all his life, and I think him right.
There is much more at A Clerk of Oxford, and I highly recommend the article linked above. And I do hope you had a Happy Marymass.