Homily for the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August 2015

Some time in the late 700's the Benedictine monks of Blandinium Abbey, or Abbaye Mont Blandin, situated in what is now North West Belgium, made a compilation of all the Chants sung at Mass throughout the year. Their manuscript is very precious, because it’s the earliest such compilation that has come down to us. It lacks any musical notation, because that had not yet been invented. In this manuscript, every single Chant for the Feast of the Assumption sets a text from Psalm 44, or 45 in the Hebrew numbering: the Royal Marriage Psalm.


In the 200 year period that followed the writing of the Blandinium Gradual, hundreds of similar manuscripts appear all over Europe, giving exactly the same texts. With the development of musical notation over these texts, we see that the music sung was also the same. Then from the late 10th century variety started to come in. Sometimes different Chants would be selected. And everywhere there would be embellishment, expansion, adornment, with the addition of Sequences, Tropes, Prosulae and Organum, or singing in parts. This process was to be severely cut back by the 16th century Council of Trent. Then after Pope Pius XII solemnly defined the Doctrine of the Assumption, the monks of Solesmes were asked to add Chants that would be more explicitly proper to the feast. So in the mid 1950's they produced our present wonderful Introit, Signum magnum (and the Communion Beatam me dicent,). Then Vatican II happened. But the Post-Conciliar Mass also sets Psalm 44 as the Responsorial Psalm for today’s feast. So it is that through all the revisions, adaptations and reforms of the past 1000 or so years, our Gradual Audi Filia has survived in place, just as we find it in the Blandinium Gradual. And so it is that, still today, in accordance with long standing tradition, we contemplate, rejoice in the Assumption of our Blessed Lady into heaven, using the words of a Marriage Hymn from the Ancient Near East..


Psalm 44 addresses the Israelite King, or Bridegroom in its first part. The second part then turns to his Queen, or Bride. No name is given to either of them; scholars make various suggestions about the identity of the original subjects. But for the devout Jews who included this poem in the canon of Holy Scripture, already the King represented the Messiah, or God himself, and the Queen his Bride Israel. In the New Testament, the letter to the Hebrews at once identifies the King of this Psalm with Christ (1:8-9). Elsewhere in the New Testament we read that Christ has a marriage, and a Bride, who is the Church (cf. Eph 5:32; Apoc 21:3 etc.). But as our reading from the Apocalypse today (12:1 ff.) makes plain, Mary is figure of the Church; so she is most rightly called his Bride, and for her Assumption we rightly sing a joyful wedding Hymn.


Audi Filia, et vide, et inclina aurem tuam... Listen, daughter, and see, and incline your ear; for the King has desired your beauty.


The Mont Blandin manuscript actually gives only the first two words of this Gradual, together with a marginal indication that it is to be sung in the VIIth mode. That was enough: it could be assumed the singers would know exactly how to do the rest from memory. The VIIth mode is the mode of heavenly exaltation, and of youthful exuberance. The melody pours out, as it were, in an ever flowing stream. Its gives the impression of tending always upwards, often soaring on the heights of Fa, a minor third above the Dominant, or even on occasion higher; yet never ceasing its impulsive movement forward until it reaches its gentle and peaceful end.


Audi, vide, inclina: Listen, see, incline: the verbs are all in the imperative. It’s as if we all, with the Psalmist, are encouraging, cheering, urging Mary on. Go to him, we cry! Do not be afraid! He’s waiting for you, in love and joy. At last the moment has come for him to receive you into the fullness of heavenly glory, into the perfection of endless union. He desires your beauty! Of course he is God, who need nothing from anyone. Nevertheless, he longs and longs for the consummation of all he has done; for you! For in you he will receive the accomplishment of all his work: of Creation and Election and Redemption, his calling of the Patriarchs and of Israel; his Incarnation, and Passion, and Death, and Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. In you he sees that Yes: it was all worth it! For what he has done is seen in you as wholly good, and beautiful, and most desirable.


Then we have the second part of the Gradual, the verse. Specie tua, et puchritudine tua intende: Set out in all your beauty and loveliness. The Latin text here differs somewhat from the Nova Vulgata edition we use in our Divine Office. As so often elsewhere in this Psalm, the Hebrew lying behind it is difficult to interpret, and so has produced considerable variety in translation. What is interesting especially here though is that the Chant takes words not from the second part of the Psalm, but from the first part. They are addressed, in context, not to the Queen, but to the King. Surely we have a hint here that our Lady’s Assumption is simply her full and final participation in the Resurrection of her Divine Son. With him she is glorified not just in her soul but in her body also. With him she is now beyond the reach of death, or pain, of sorrow. Yet also with him she can be addressed by us! With him she hears our prayers, and as our Mother, wants us to turn to her, and to come to her, so that we might share, one day, in her glory.


Specie tua, et puchritudine tua intende: prospere procede, et regna! Set out in all your beauty and loveliness, we cry to Mary. Proceed in security, and reign! Be our Queen, and Mother. Stand waiting for us, as your Lord waited for you in heaven. Bring it about that his Kingdom will be established in our hearts and lives; his will done in us. Help us to live as he wishes us to, as you always lived, in humility, in obedience to him, in love and in goodness. Et regna! Reign especially, today, over this monastery, dedicated to you, and rejoicing to celebrate its patronal Feast. Reign over all who live here, and all who visit us! Keep us united in love with one another, fruitful in Apostolic witness, always faithful to our vocation. Teach us how to pray, and how to deepen our prayer! Preserve us from all attacks, whether from without or within, and help each of us to respond to God’s love and grace with courage, and steadfastness, and with answering love.