Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Durandus on the Assumption

The following excerpts are taken from William Durandus’ commentary on the feast of the Assumption. The reader should note that the Epistle and Gospel to which he refers were changed when Pope Pius XII promulgated a new Mass after making the dogmatic definition of the Assumption in 1950. (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, 7, 24, 3-10.)

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 1485-1500 ca., by the anonymous Netherlandish painter known as the Master of the Saint Lucy Legend. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons. (Click link to see in very high resolution.)
On this feast… (texts of the liturgy are) sung also from the book of Canticles (i.e. the Song of Songs), … which is about love, because while (the Virgin Mary) abided in the flesh, she had greater love than any other creature living in the flesh, except for Christ. And therefore, because of the exceeding charity which She had on earth, She merited to rise above the angels, for to live in the flesh apart from the flesh is not an earthly life but a heavenly one.
This feast is suitable for the summer, for charity rises by the heat of fire. Again, the readings and chants come from the song of love, because the Blessed Virgin is a figure of the Church. For just as She is mother, virgin and spouse, so also the Church, the mother of Saints, has both the name of virginity and of a spouse; the virginity, I mean, of mind and faith, which is greater than the virginity of the flesh; and of a spouse, because she is the bride of Christ, whence the Apostle says “For I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” …
The first responsory of Matins of the Assumption, a loose paraphrase of several parts of the Song of Songs, with the verse from chapter 3, 6; polyphonic setting by Tomás Luis de Victoria.
R. Vidi speciósam sicut columbam, ascendentem désuper rivos aquárum, cujus inaestimábilis odor erat nimis in vestimentis ejus; * Et sicut dies verni circúmdabant eam flores rosárum et lilia convallium. V. Quae est ista quae ascendit per desertum sicut vírgula fumi ex aromátibus myrrhae et thuris? Et sicut dies verni...
R. I saw one fair like a dove, going up above the rivers of waters, and a perfume beyond price hung heavy in her garments. * And like the days of spring, there surrounded her the flowers of roses and the lilies of the valleys. V. Who is this that cometh up from the desert like a pillar of smoke from the perfumes of myrrh and frankincense? R. And like the days of spring...

At the Mass of the day is read the Epistle, “in all things I saw rest” (Sirach 24, 11-13 and 15-20), for in all things She sought eternal life, and therefore She has it. There follows, “and he that created me rested in my tabernacle,” that is, in my womb. And because the Lord rested in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, therefore he gave her his own tabernacle, that is, heaven. Just as she made for him a great throne, for which reason she herself says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and “King Solomon made a great throne of ivory” (3 Kings 10), so also the Lord made for her a great throne in heaven when he exalted her above the angels.
The Gospel (Luke 10, 38-42) is read about Martha and Mary, which at first sight appears to have no relevance, and yet it is indeed relevant, according to an allegory. For Jesus entered into a certain ‘small castle’, that is, into the Virgin Mary, who is called a castle since She is terrible to demons, and armed Herself well against the devil and against vices. But She is called ‘a small castle’ in the diminutive (castellum) because of her humility, and because of Her unique condition, since ‘neither before nor henceforth hath there been or shall be another such as Her.’ (quoting the 2nd antiphon of Lauds on Christmas day.) And Martha, that is, the active life, received Him. For She most diligently reared Her Child, and brought him into Egypt, and showed her goodness in the active life, by going to Elizabeth, and serving her, and just as She was (like) Martha in the active life, so also she was (like) Mary Magdalene in the contemplative life. Whence in another Gospel is read, “Mary kept all these words in her heart.” (Luke 2, 50)
Now these two sisters signify the active life and the contemplative life, which were clearly in the Blessed Virgin Mary, and through them she exaltedly, honorably, and with great delight, received Christ in Herself.” (7.24)
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, by Henryk Semiradzki, 1886
Now this should be noted, that there are four Gospels of the Virgin Mary. One is “The Angel (of the Lord) was sent” (Luke 1, 26-38), which should be said only in Advent and on the Annunciation. The other three can be sung whenever a special Mass is said of her from the commons, as it were, which are “A certain woman lifting up her voice” (Luke 11, 27-28), another, “Mary went into the mountains” (Luke 1, 39-45) and another, “There stood by the Cross.” (John 19, 25-27.)
Note also that this feast has a fast (i.e. a vigil) and an octave, which no other feast of hers has, for this feast is greater than all of the others which are celebrated for her. Likewise, in regard to any Saint, the feast of his passing is greater than any of his other feasts, because he passes from misery to life, except for John the Baptist. … (In Durandus’ time, the other Marian octaves, those of the Immaculate Conception and Nativity, did not yet exist.)
There is a legend that when a certain priest, knowing perhaps no other Mass, celebrated the Mass of the Virgin every day, the bishop suspended him from his office, but the Virgin for this reason gravely threatened the bishop, and therefore he relaxed this suspension. (This story was extremely popular in the Middle Ages, and is told of many different bishops, including St Thomas of Canterbury.)

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