For Every Generation
“In every generation, God gives a sign of hope to his people.” When Fr. Donat began his homily with this line, we all perked up our ears to listen. Maybe because it often feels as if hope is in short supply, and oh, how we feel the need of it! That simple statement of faith in God’s gracious gift of hope certainly resonates with today’s feast -- our feast – the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
For the Assumption is perhaps the pre-eminent feast of hope. Our hope that death is not the end of the mundane little life we’ve lived, whether we’ve walked the earth for the biblical “three score and ten” years (or “80 for those who are strong,” according to Psalm 90) or for just a fraction of that time.
Of course, the Resurrection of Jesus was the first to ring out the good news, that Death no longer had any power over Life. But in some beautiful, homely sense, in a way that touches something so deep in ourselves that it’s far beyond words or even thought, the Assumption of the Virgin tells us that someone whose life was as ordinary as our own has shared fully in her Son’s conquest of Death. In the glorification of the Theotokos, all of human nature is transformed.
This is an ancient feast, celebrated by both Catholics and Orthodox with much solemnity. The Orthodox refer to it as The Dormition of the Mother of God, the Theotokos. It is her “falling asleep” in the Lord, only to be awakened as she joins him at his right hand in heaven. Both traditions base their belief in this mystery on the belief of the ancient, undivided Church. In one of the prayers of the Byzantine Vespers of the Dormition, we get a glimpse of that ancient faith and the hope that it celebrates:
At your departure, O Virgin Theotokos, to him who was ineffably born of you, James, the first bishop and brother of the Lord was there, and so was Peter, the honored leader and head of the disciples, and the whole sacred company of the Apostles. In discourses that showed forth heavenly things, they sang the praises of the divine and amazing mystery of the benevolence of Christ our God; and they rejoiced, O most holy Virgin, as they buried your body, the origin of the Life and bearer of God. On high the angelic choirs wondered before this marvel and said to one another: “Open wide your gates and receive her who bore the Creator of heaven and earth. With songs of praise let us glorify her precious and holy body, dwelling place of the Lord on whom we may not gaze.” Therefore we, too, as we keep your festival, cry out to you: “Most blessed Lady, Protector of Christians, intercede for the salvation of our souls!”
“In every generation,” said Fr. Donat.
If you’d like to listen to the chanting of Byzantine “sticheras” (hymns for the feast), click on this YouTube link – and Happy Feast!
—Sr. Nuala Cotter, RA, Provincial of the U.S. Province