Today is the feast of the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Dormition (which is a Latin-based word for ‘falling asleep’). Roman Catholics call it the Assumption, believing that the Mother of Our Lord was assumed bodily into heaven like Enoch of the Old Testament. The prayer overlaying the mosaic above is the first of the BCP’s ‘Supplementary Collects Epistles and Gospels’ (p. 309 in Canada’s 1962 edition).
The more Protestant-minded or evangelical Anglican has a natural, innate uneasiness with the Blessed Virgin Mary, arising from instances of what seems to be ‘Mariolatry’ amongst Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. However, St Mary the Virgin is among the Great Cloud of Witnesses, a saint of Scripture whose life is worthy of our consideration, meditation, and emulation.
This collect reminds us, first and foremost, where saintliness of all the holy originates: ‘God Most High.’ God is the source and end-point of all human holiness. Whatever effort we may find ourselves expending in the midst of the pursuit of holiness, any ‘virtue and grace’ any of us gains, as with the Blessed Virgin Mary, comes from God and God alone.
Second, as a collect, it turns us to God in supplication. Remembering the earthly family of which Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was a member whilst upon earth, the Prayer Book takes the opportunity to direct our prayers towards our heavenly family, asking the Lord to make us ‘very members of the heavenly family.’
Third, the collect draws our attention to Jesus Christ. This is something that all the saints and prayers of the Church should do. When our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters express their doctrine in a way we are more comfortable with, the Blessed Virgin Mary is always pointing to Christ. I once saw a vast fresco of the Nativity in a Greek Orthodox church, and it was noted to me where St Mary was pointing — to Jesus.
Thus, this collect draws our hearts and minds to Jesus. We recollect His earthly mother and her virtues, and where they came from; this draws our minds to the spiritual, heavenly family; and this reminds us that Jesus ‘was pleased to be called the first-born among many brethren.’
I hope you will feel comfortable using this collect in the office today.
Top: Adoration of the Magi, 8th-century. Originally in Old St Peter’s in the Vatican; today in Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Photo by MJH.
Bottom: Dormition of the Virgin, c. 1295 by Jacopo Torriti; photo from this blog — MJH’s was too blurry.