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§ 83. The Festivals of Mary.

This mythical and fantastic, and, we must add, almost pagan and idolatrous Mariology impressed itself on the public cultus in a series of festivals, celebrating the most important facts and fictions of the life of the Virgin, and in some degree running parallel with the festivals of the birth, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.

1. The Annunciation of Mary800800   Ημέρα ἀσπασμοῦ, or Χαριτισμοῦ, εύαγγελισμοῦ, ἐνσαρκώσεως; festum annunciationis, s. incarnationis, conceptionis Domini. commemorates the announcement of the birth of Christ by the archangel Gabriel,801801   Luke i. 26-39. and at the same time the conception of Christ; for in the view of the ancient church Mary conceived the Logos (Verbum) through the ear by the word of the angel. Hence the festival had its place on the 25th of March, exactly nine months before Christmas; though in some parts of the church, as Spain and Milan, it was celebrated in December, till the Roman practice conquered. The first trace of it occurs in Proclus, the opponent and successor of Nestorius in Constantinople after 430; then it appears more plainly in several councils and homilies of the seventh century.

2. The Purification of Mary802802   Festum purificationis Mariae, orpraesentationis Domini, Simeonis et Hannae occursus; ὑπαπάντη, or ὑπάντη, or ὑπάντησις τοῦ Κυρίου (the meeting of the Lord with Simeon and Anna in the temple). or Candlemas, in memory of the ceremonial purification of the Virgin,803803   Comp. Luke ii. 22; Lev. xi 2-7. The apparent incongruity of Mary’s need of purification with the prevalent Roman Catholic doctrine of her absolute purity and freedom from the ordinary accompaniments of parturition (even, according to Paschasius Radbert, from the flow of blood) gave rise to all kinds of artificial explanations. Augustinederived it from the consuetudo legis rather than the necessitas expiandi purgandique peccati, and places it on a par with the baptism of Christ. (Quaest. in Heptateuchum, l. iii. c. 40.) forty days after the birth of Jesus, therefore on the 2d of February (reckoning from the 25th of December); and at the same time in memory of the presentation of Jesus in the temple and his meeting of Simeon and Anna.804804   Luke ii. 22-38. This, like the preceding, was thus originally as much a festival of Christ as of Mary, especially in the Greek church. It is supposed to have been introduced by Pope Gelasius in 494, though by some said not to have arisen till 542 under Justinian I., in consequence of a great earthquake and a destructive pestilence. Perhaps it was a Christian transformation of the old Roman lustrations or expiatory sacrifices (Februa, Februalia), which from the time of Numa took place in February, the month of purification or expiation.805805   Februarius, from Februo, the purifying god; like Januarius, from the god Janus. Februare = purgare to purge. February was originally the last month. To heathen origin is due also the use of lighted tapers, with which the people on this festival marched, singing, out of the church through the city. Hence the name Candlemas.806806   Festum candelarum sive luminum.

3. The Ascension, or Assumption rather, of Mary807807   κοίμησις, or ἀνάληψις τῆς ἁγίας Θεοτόκου, festum assumptionis. is celebrated on the 15th of August. The festival was introduced by the Greek emperor Mauritius (582–602); some say, under Pope Gelasius († 496). In Rome, after the ninth century, it is one of the principal feasts, and, like the others, is distinguished with vigil and octave.

It rests, however, on a purely apocryphal foundation.

The entire silence of the apostles and the primitive church teachers respecting the departure of Mary stirred idle curiosity to all sorts of inventions, until a translation like Enoch’s and Elijah’s was attributed to her. In the time of Origen some were inferring from Luke ii. 35, that she had suffered martyrdom. Epiphanius will not decide whether she died and was buried, or not. Two apocryphal Greek writings de transitu Mariae, of the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century, and afterward pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Gregory of Tours († 595), for the first time contain the legend that the soul of the mother of God was transported to the heavenly paradise by Christ and His angels in presence of all the apostles, and on the following morning808808   According to later representations, as in the three discourses of John Damascenus on this subject, her body rested, like the body of the Lord, three days uncorrupted in the grave. her body also was translated thither on a cloud and there united with the soul. Subsequently the legend was still further embellished, and, besides the apostles, the angels and patriarchs also, even Adam and Eve, were made witnesses of the wonderful spectacle.

Still the resurrection and ascension of Mary are in the Roman church only a matter of “devout and probable opinion,” not an article of faith;809809   The Greek council of Jerusalem in 1672, which was summoned against the Calvinists, officially proclaimed it, and thus almost raised it to the authority of a dogma. and a distinction is made between the ascensio of Christ (by virtue of His divine nature) and the assumptio of Mary (by the power of grace and merit).

But since Mary, according to the most recent Roman dogma, was free even from original sin, and since death is a consequence of sin, it should strictly follow that she did not die at all, and rise again, but, like Enoch and Elijah, was carried alive to heaven.

In the Middle Age—to anticipate briefly—yet other festivals of Mary arose: the Nativity of Mary,810810   Nativitas, natalis B. M. V.; γενέθλιον, &c. after a.d. 650; the Presentation of Mary,811811   Festum presentationis. after the ninth century, founded on the apocryphal tradition of the eleven years’ ascetic discipline of Mary in the temple at Jerusalem; the Visitation of Mary812812   Festum visitationis. in memory of her visit to Elizabeth; a festival first mentioned in France in 1247, and limited to the western church; and the festival of the Immaculate Conception,813813   Festum immaculatae conceptionis B. M.V. which arose with the doctrine of the sinless conception of Mary, and is interwoven with the history of that dogma down to its official and final promulgation by Pope Pius IX. in 1854.

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