The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name

If you walk across the Kidron Valley, from the Cenacle in Jerusalem to the Chapel of the Ascension at the summit of the Mount of Olives, you pass between the Garden of Gethsemane on your right and the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin on your left. From the perspective of Our Lord returning on the last day and setting His foot back down upon the Mount of Olives, the positions would be reversed, with the Garden of Gethsemane on His left and Our Lady’s Tomb on His right. This is surely no coincidence, for from that place He will divide the sheep and the goats in the final judgement. 

“On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.”

Zech 14:4

Contrary to popular belief among many Catholics, the universal understanding of the Assumption in the early Church, among those who spoke of it, was that Our Lady “went to sleep” (i.e. her soul and body were separated) in Jerusalem and then she was resurrected and assumed from her tomb in the Kidron Valley. Immortalism (the idea that Our Lady never died) and the idea that she resided at Ephesus and was assumed there are very late — sufficiently late, indeed that one might reasonably doubt their admissibility as theological opinions. That the separation of the soul and body of the Blessed Virgin is called the Dormition is not a euphemism but respects Our Lord’s own language, in which He is reluctant to refer to the end of someone in a state of grace as death (cf. Mk 5:39 or Jn 11:11). Death principally refers to sin. 

The Lord told Adam and Eve “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). And yet, they did not die for many years, indeed centuries later. In the spirit, though, they did indeed die then and there. Death is not principally the separation of soul and body and then, by extension, the separation of the soul from God. It is the other way around. It is principally the separation of the soul from God; and only by a consequence the separation of soul and body, such that without the former the latter is not properly called death. 

On the right hand of the Christ then, the Virgin sleeps in the flesh and is awakened to glory. On His left sleep the disciples in the hour of His agony. In 1 Corinthians 11:30, St Paul speaks of certain Christians of Corinth who have made sacrilegious communions, “falling asleep”: “there are many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep”. Here the apostle does indeed speak euphuistically of a reality all too present in the Church of the twenty-first century, when everyone present at every Mass communicates and only a fraction of them ever go to confession, and so their numbers dwindle each year ever closer to extinction. 

“Sleep on and take your rest for the hour has come when the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mt 26:45). Here is the sleep of sin, the sleep of ingratitude, the sloth of venial sin which will soon be transformed into mortal sin as the disciples flee and abandon their master to those who came to arrest Him. 

It has been suggested that the principal suffering of Christ in Gethsemane came from ingratitude. Ingratitude is the mark of reprobation, just as the Eucharist — the “thank you” — is the one and all-sufficient act of worship instituted for us by Christ. As the God man Who alone on earth, in virtue of the hypostatic union, enjoyed in His human intellect the unmediated intellectual apprehension of the Divine Essence, Christ beheld all created reality simultaneously past, present and future. “No one has ascended into heaven, but He that descended from heaven, the Son of man Who is in heaven” (Jn 3:13). When we pray the first sorrowful mystery, when we keep vigil with the Lord on Maundy Thursday, He is aware of our presence in the Garden in the hour of His agony; we keep vigil with the angel sent to strengthen Him. When we neglect and presume upon His gifts, we fall asleep with the apostles. When we fall into mortal sin, we join with the mob come to arrest Him. When we receive communion regardless, we betray the Son of Man with a kiss. 

As Byzantine Catholics pray before every communion: 

“O Lord, I believe and profess that you are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the first. Accept me today as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God, for I will not reveal your mysteries to your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I profess to you: Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Master, when you come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Holy One, when you come into your kingdom. May the partaking of your holy mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation but for the healing of soul and body.” 

Contrary to what so many Protestants believe, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:2) And yet he warns us, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mt 7:13–14). Pius XII reminds us that: 

“[T]he knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. O marvellous condescension of divine love for us! O inestimable dispensation of boundless charity! In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself.”

Mystici Corporis, 75

What agony that love was to Him when He considered how many would reject it to their ruin. The neo-pagan “theologians” — who, with their disingenuous “universal hope”, recapitulate the rebellion of Lucifer and “destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision” (Humani Generis, 26) — object to the distinction between God’s antecedent will by which He wills the salvation of all men and His consequent will by which He wills the salvation only of the elect. They think it glib. Our Lord and Saviour did not think it glib when, on Maundy Thursday, He surveyed the ingratitude of the human race — “multitudes falling into hell like snowflakes” — and the torpor of His own disciples spurning and trampling upon the salvation He was about to win for them at an unimaginable price. 

“Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth.” (Ps 134:6) But He speaks quite literally when He says, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands …” (Is 49:16)

“Grace” has three ordinary meanings according to St Thomas (Ia IIae, 110, 1): the benevolence of the one who does us good, the good he does us and our gratitude for the unmerited gift. To “destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order” is no small thing. It is the difference between she who is “full of grace”, who briefly slept in peace to rise in glory and be crowned with twelve stars beyond the highest heavens, and he who betrayed his Lord with a kiss, the son of perdition who was destined to be lost. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8–9). Only because someone is sent, because someone preaches, can we believe, can we call upon Him, can we be saved lest we imagine anything is owed to us. Only if we are grateful for the gift that is given gratis are we truly the recipients of God’s benevolence. For “whatsoever is in man disposing him towards salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination; even the preparation for grace”. (Ia, 23, 5). 

God our Saviour looks upon the humility of His handmaiden and therefore does great things for her. And the first of those eternal blessings is the humility itself.