Friday, August 15, 2014

Assumption of Mary ~ August 15th

The Assumption of Mary is the traditional belief held by Christians of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and some Protestant churches such as Lutheranism and Anglo-Catholic Anglicans that the Virgin Mary at the end of her life was physically taken up into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary, "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." This means that it claims that Mary was transported into Heaven with her body and soul united. This doctrine was dogmatically and infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus. The feast day recognizing Mary's assumed passage into Heaven is celebrated as The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics, and as the Dormition by Orthodox Christians. In those denominations that observe it, the Assumption is a major festival, commonly celebrated on August 15. This is a Holy Day of Obligation in many Roman Catholic jurisdictions.

In his August 15, 2004, homily given at Lourdes, Pope John Paul II quoted John 14:3 from the Bible as a scriptural basis for understanding the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. In this verse, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also." According to Catholic theology, Mary is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ's promise. However, many theologians disagree with this interpretation of Scripture, and believe that Christ was speaking about his preparation of Calvary and the crucifixion for the remission of sins.

Five years ago I returned to Italy, as I did again two years ago last September and October. I won’t relate an entire travelogue, but will describe some of the various resting places where I left some of Dennis’ ashes.

Soon after my arrival on Saturday August 25, 2007, I dropped by the Artigianelli Monastery, where we had stayed in February 2006. Unfortunately they had received a terrific review in the New York Times Travel Section, which meant they were completely booked, and we were unable to reserve a room.

But I asked the pleasant Pilipina woman behind the desk if I might see the back cloister, just recently planted with trees and flowers. (It had always had construction equipment in its midst whenever we had been there before.)

She kindly agreed, and, unsupervised, I sprinkled a large zip lock bag of Dennis’ ashes around the base of a healthy new olive tree in the cloister. Returning to the front desk, I asked the young woman if I could donate something in memory of a friend. She said I would need to talk with her boss, who wouldn’t be in until Monday.

Later that evening, hoping to see Alessandro, the friendly night desk person from February 2006, I returned to the Artigianelli, and learned that Alessandro would be working Sunday afternoon after 3:00 pm.

Sunday morning I went to 8:00 mass at San Marco. It was wonderful! Only thirty or forty other people were there for the service and I was able to experience the main section of the nave and transepts without the din of hundreds of tourists. Amazingly, the officiating priest had a very pleasant and musical voice – one of the best singing priests I’ve ever heard.

After San Marco, I went to the Frari with the marvelous Titiano painting of the Assumption of the Virgin. Dennis and I had attended a Sunday service back in February 1997. It was one of the coldest days of my life. I was wearing two pairs of socks, silk long johns, cotton long johns, a wool suit, overcoat, muffler and gloves – and I was still freezing! The damp, wet cold penetrated everything – and we were relatively close to tall space heaters. Well, if the temperature was cold, the personal atmosphere was very welcoming and warm. Here we were in one of the great churches of Christendom!

At first Dennis was alarmed to see several people enter with guitars. Oh no, not a guitar mass here! But it turned out to be heartfelt and genuine – the first time a guitar mass made sense. Furthermore, the entire service was written out – prayers, responses, lessons, hymns –even the sermon. So although we didn’t speak Italian, we could participate fully in the service— and all the people around us were gracious and made us feel very welcome. Dennis concluded that most of the members of the congregation were people from the neighborhood – it was their parish church. In truth there didn’t seem to be many tourists there that February, particularly after Carnevale.

On August 26th 2007 I was pleased to see a young woman organist sit down at the console and play the prelude. At first, I couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from. Eventually I figured it must be from behind the Titiano altar piece, a fact confirmed by the attractive organist after the service.

It was one of three organs in the Church— and the newest – from the 1920’s. She said her boyfriend was the grandson of the builder. The other two organs were on either side of the splendidly carved quire. One was from approximately 1680, I believe, the other from 1794.

I had brought an inlaid Moroccan box full of Dennis’ ashes to bury in the cloister by the olive tree. But since we weren’t able to stay at the Artigianelli, I figured it would be rather tricky to bury it there unobserved. I had the box with me at the Frari; so after the service I scouted around for an appropriate place to leave it. I noticed two gigantic wooden consoles almost twenty feet long, with open bases. One was behind the right side of the quire and under the case of the 1794 organ. It looked as though it hadn’t been moved in a few hundred years.

So when no one was looking, I discreetly shoved the box underneath. At first I had a copy of Dennis’ death certificate inside the box; but I figured that wasn’t such a great idea, so removed it before leaving it. Some decade or century in the future someone will come across the box & wonder which saint it contains. Dennis would be pleased to know that the organ was installed before the end of the Republic. (That’s one of the reasons Dennis despised Napoleon – that he had abolished the Venetian Republic, which had endured almost a thousand years.)

After lunch I took the vaporetto to San Michele, the cemetery island, and left a handful of Dennis’s ashes under two red rose bushes. Then I returned to the Artigianelli and gave a donation for the olive tree to Alessandro.

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Titian in the Frari (Venezia)