Passing Time & Our Lady

Thoughts on this Assumption Day

The Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption, when the Blessed Virgin Mary, “at the end of her earthly life,” was taken body and soul into heaven.

The feast is a logical extension of the Resurrection: the latter’s transfiguring power is intended to reach every one of Christ’s followers, of whom none was more excellent than His Mother. Therefore, it is also appropriate that the feast falls about halfway between Easter and the Church’s final focus on the Last Judgment in the last weeks of Ordinary Time, sometime in November.

In Polish tradition, the feast is also called Matka Boska Zielna (Our Lady of the Herbs or Greens) because it remains the practice to bring flowers and herbs to Church for blessing on August 15. In Poland, most herbs are now ready to be gathered and the harvest is already begun. Also, in the ancient Church there was the tradition that the Apostles, when they returned to visit the place they laid Mary’s body, found it filled with roses instead. So, this day, take a bouquet to Church and, while there, also add a spiritual bouquet in the form of Our Lady’s Roses, the Rosary.

August 15 also marks an historic day in Polish history: on August 15, 1920, against all odds, forces of the not yet two-year old revived Polish nation beat back Russian communists on the outskirts of Warsaw. The Battle of Warsaw almost certainly saved the rest of Europe from experiencing an Iron Curtain 25 years earlier than when it actually fell. Catholic Poles do not assign that victory solely to political or military causes; that Bolshevik Russian forces were stopped at the capital on August 15 was no coincidence.

Two future Popes — Pius XI and Pius XII — drew first-hand experience of communism back then: Ratti (Pius XI) as papal nuncio in Poland, the only diplomat who remained in the besieged capital while the rest fled, and Pacelli (Pius XII) whose life was threatened at the hands of a short-lived communist coup in Bavaria. For the 36 years of their pontificates, the Church nursed no illusions about communism nor the possibilities of “dialogue” with it.

As a Polish-American child in New Jersey, I may not have understood the theology, but I remember bringing flowers from the garden to church. It was also a kind of time marker: half of August was gone and, in a state not obsessed with herding kids back to school to be indoctrinated — er, I mean, to “learn” — we kids knew summer was on its last legs, days were getting shorter and, by the Nativity of Our Lady (Sept. 8), we’d be behind our desks.

Different experiences at different times in life makes one aware that time is passing. Maybe it’s in your 40s, when you discover your arms are too short to read without glasses! Or when, as parents, you begin to hear your own parents out of your mouths when speaking to your kids. Maybe it’s when retirement looms. But, I think for Catholic kids — at least the ones I knew — that first awareness of the flight of time came now, in these days of August. It’s the bittersweet awareness, right after Assumption, that another summer is gone and another school year is looming, that you’re older and moving forward, and there’s maybe even a twitch of nostalgia for what’s passed. Perhaps, in that way, Our Lady helps us understand this is not our ultimate home but part of the trip there. For adults, that consciousness of the passage of time may often bear the feel of thorns but, at least for the little ones as they first realize its going by, our Lady leaves the last flowers of summer. Perhaps she does it so that, in the future, we can each remember that passage of our youth with the nostalgia, où sont les roses d’antan?

A Blessed feast to all!

 

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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