The Emerald Table
"Now it is easy to say that "eating of the flesh of Christ," is a figurative way of describing faith in Christ. But such a method of dealing with the words of Holy Scripture is really to empty them of their divine force. This spiritual eating, this feeding upon Christ, is the best result of faith, the highest energy of faith, but it is not faith itself. To eat is to take that into ourselves which we can assimilate as the support of of life. The phrase "to eat the flesh of Christ" expresses therefore, as perhaps no other language could express, the great truth that Christians are made partakers of the human nature of their Lord, which is united in one person to the divine nature, that He imparts to us now, and that we can receive into our own manhood, something of His manhood, which may be the seed, so to speak, of the glorified bodies in which we shall hereafter behold Him. Faith, if I may so express it, in its more general sense, leaves us outside Christ trusting in Him; but the crowning act of faith incorporates us into Christ."
The feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, coming as it does in mid-August, is associated in this country (pre-Reformation, obviously) with the harvest. Indeed, in some of the Marian shrines, for instance in Sudbury, Suffolk there was in medieval times a procession on this feast with Mary called Our Lady of the Harvest. It started at the Benedictine priory of St. Bartholomew, from there the statue of Our Lady was carried through the town, surrounded by flags and banners, and accompanied by crowds bearing sheaves of corn. It was an event of great importance.
This procession and others like it embody the intimate connection between Our Lady and Christ. They point to the mystical significance of Our Lady seen in her title as Ark of the Covenant, in that she is the Sacred Vessel in which Christ is carried. She must then be also in some sense there wherever the Church is, given its Sacramental nature.
In partaking of the Eucharist, we become that which we consume - the Eastern Church calls this Theosis - a becoming like God. As Bishop Westcott has it "we can receive into our own manhood, something of His manhood, which may be the seed, so to speak, of the glorified bodies in which we shall hereafter behold Him". These glorified bodies must be in some sense the same as that in which Mary was assumed into Heaven, the difference being that she, being the Immaculate Conception, received that body before birth, whereas we will receive it after death. As this website has it:
"While Mary was “full of grace” from the beginning, we are likewise called to be full of grace; this is theosis. This is confirmed in Mary as the Queen of Heaven. For us, it is something to be achieved. For that she is our model."
So Mary's assumption is in one sense a foretaste of our own future glory.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose feast it is today, had this to say about Mary
"The Father gave her his Son, the Son came down into her virginal womb to become her child; in her the Holy Spirit miraculously fashioned the body of Jesus and made her soul his own dwelling place, penetrating her whole being such an ineffable manner that the expression “Spouse of the Holy Spirit” is far from adequate to express the life of the Spirit in her and through her. In Jesus there are two natures, divine and human, but one single Person who is God; here on the contrary we have two natures and two persons, the Holy Spirit and the Immaculata, but united in a union that defies all human expression."
In us too, there can be two persons; ourselves and the Holy Spirit reflected in us - that is what theosis is. This occurs through a process of purification of will through prayer and penance: we too can give birth to the logos in our own soul. As Tomberg says this occurs through perception of that which is above and reaction to that which is perceived ('childbirth'). My soul must become polished as a mirror without a single flaw, so that it can adequately reflect the heavenly glory. The process by which this is done is called by various names, but they all are essentially a way of purgation, of dying to self.
I now reproduce here the words of Valentin Tomberg regarding Hermeticism and Our Lady, as it has a bearing on our topic. (Hermeticism guards the communal soul of all true culture - Hermeticists listen to the beating heart of the spiritual life of humanity):
"One meets the Blessed Virgin inevitably when one attains a certain intensity of spiritual aspiration, when this aspiration is authentic and pure. The very fact of having attained a spiritual sphere which comprises a certain degree of intensity and purity of intention puts you in the presence of the Blessed Virgin. This meeting belongs to a certain "sphere"—i.e. to a certain degree of intensity and purity of spiritual aspiration —of spiritual experience, just as the experience of having a mother belongs naturally to human family life on earth. It is therefore as "natural" for the spiritual domain as the fact of having a mother is natural in the domain of one's terrestrial family. The difference is that on earth one can certainly be motherless, whilst in the realm of the spiritual this can never happen.
Therefore, the thesis that I am advancing with one hundred per cent conviction is that every Hermeticist who truly seeks authentic spiritual reality will sooner or later meet the Blessed Virgin. This meeting signifies, apart from the illumination and consolation that it comprises, protection against a very serious spiritual danger. For he who advances in the sense of depth and height in the "domain of the invisible" one day arrives at the sphere known by esotericists as the "sphere of mirages" or the "zone of illusion". This zone surrounds the earth as a belt of illusory mirages. It is this zone which the prophets and the Apocalypse designate "Babylon". The soul and the queen of this zone is in fact Babylon, the great prostitute, who is the adversary of the Virgin. Now, one cannot pass by this zone without being enveloped by perfect purity. One cannot traverse it without the protection of the "mantle of the Blessed Virgin"— the mantle which was an object of worship and of a special cult in Russia (Pokrov Presvyatyya Bogoroditsy —"Mantle of the Very Holy Mother of God"). It
is therefore the protection of this "mantle" which is absolutely necessary in order to be able to traverse the "sphere of mirages" without falling prey to the influence of its illusions."
Here are two tales about the precious veil of Our Lady kept in Chartres cathedral. Let us pray for the protection of the mantle of the Blessed Virgin.
Now the mantle or the veil represents the capacity to separate oneself from the cacophony of moods, prejudices and desires surrounding you, in order to listen to and understand the hierarchical harmony of the spheres. Without this capacity, there would be no ability to worship at all.
Last Sunday I heard two sermons. One was in church. It was a powerful exposition on the sanctity of the Eucharist, explaining that in the Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle we approach heaven - the church is a liminal place - we must metaphorically take off our shoes when we enter. We must metaphorically (or even literally!) put on our veil so that we can adequately hear and understand the heavenly hierarchy.
I heard another sermon, or perhaps mission statement, when I got home. We had Frozen (the Disney film) on DVD, and it had got to the famous scene with Elsa singing Let It Go. She sang out bitterly in a kind of desperate parody of true joy to not worry about what others say, don't worry about tradition, do what you want, be free, let it go. Have a look at some of the lyrics:
Don't let them in,
don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don't feel,
don't let them know
Well now they know
It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I'm never going back, the past is in the past
Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Flattened, horizontal, anti-traditional (supposedly) clear-eyed, but really cynical, egotistic, amoral - do I need to go on? The reverse of the model held up to us in the figure of Our Lady.
The progressive, secular world vision gets hammered in at an early age. But don't worry - the Woman clothed with the Sun will crush the Serpent's head under her heel.