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The Assumption and Mono No Aware


Our Lady of Akita

August 15th marks the Feast of the Assumption, that is, the day Our Lady was assumed body and soul into Heaven. This is one of the Four Marian Dogmas of the Catholic Faith, it was infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in his apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus, the latest time to date that a Pope has exercised his infallibility. The belief that Our Lady was assumed body and soul into Heaven was held long before it was declared a dogma, as were the other three Marian Dogmas. The Eastern Orthodox also believe in the Assumption of Mary (As they do the Dogmas of Our Lady's Perpetual Virginity and Her as Theotokos, "God-bearer" or Mother of God.) However, due to their schism from Rome and the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Patriarchs have been unable to call a council and declare the Assumption, a dogma in their churches.

August 15th was also the day that Saint Francis Xavier first set foot on Japan, in 1549. The story of the Catholics of Nagasaki is an amazing and inspiring one, which I might write about in-full in a later entry. When the Shogunate expelled all Europeans from the country, the last Jesuit to leave addressed the Japanese Catholics, he promised that the Church would return to Japan one day, and told them to look for three signs which would confirm that, the day had come; first, the priests that would arrive would be celibate; second, that these priests would be obedient to the Pope in Rome; and third, that they would venerate and proclaim Mother Mary. For two and a half centuries, there was no Catholic priest on the isles.

However, after the overthrow of the Shogunate and the establishment of the new Empire of Japan, Europeans were allowed once again to enter Japan, and churches were allowed to by built in the country, but only for Europeans, Japanese citizens were forbidden to enter churches. In Nagasaki, a French priest, one of the first Catholic priests allowed back in the country, searched high and low for any remnant of the Japanese Catholics, fully aware of the Jesuit history in this part of the world. Eventually the priest came to believe that the Shoguns had succeeded and snuffing-out the Faith in Japan, and proceeded to continue on with his duties of administering the Sacraments to his fellow-europeans. However one day, while the priest was saying the Divine Office, he found himself confronted by a group of Japanese women, his Japanese was poor and it took him awhile to translate what they were saying; but when he did, he realized that they were all asking the same question, "where is Mother Mary?" Upon realizing this, the priest led the women over to the side altar, and showed them the statue of Our Lady holding the Christ-Child; upon seeing this, the Japanese women joyfully cried out that the Church had finally returned!

The women eventually introduced the priest to the hidden community of Japanese Catholics, they were led by three men; the water man, who was in charge of baptisms; the calendar man, who kept track of the Church's Liturgical Calendar and when the major feast days were; and the head man, who was in charge of the community as a whole. This was how the community of Japanese Lay Catholics was run for 250 years without a priest, now they were reaping their rewards. Nakasaki's Cathedral, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, became the largest Cathedral in East Asia... until August 9th 1945, when an act that, as one guy put it, (I'm paraphrasing, I can't remember the exact quote) "managed to do in a few minutes, what 250 years of persecution under the Japanese Shogunate failed to do!" The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen believed that nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the beginning of the Culture of Death in the West. But that was not the end of the gross acts of consequentialism committed by the US, on the eve of the Assumption, and just hours before the Empire of Japan surrendered, the US launched a bombing campaign on the town of Akita, killing hundreds of civilians; Akita would later become famous for the statue of Our Lady of Akita, (pictured above) and the miracles associated with it. (Some speculate that Our Lady of Akita is somehow linked with the bombings, due to the frightening prophecies revealed to Sister Agnes Sasagawa, the visionary who spoke with Our Lady.)

In Japan, there is a worldview called Mono no Aware. Mono no Aware, which roughly translates to "a deep feeling for things," refers to a contemplation of the transience of things, an appreciation that nothing lasts for ever. In a 2019 BBC article, (Seven words that can help us to be a little calmer) David Buhler, a South African artist said of Mono No Aware that, “It’s basically about being both saddened and appreciative of transience – and also about the relationship between life and death. In Japan, there are four very distinct seasons, and you really become aware of life and mortality and transience. You become aware of how significant those moments are.” So what does Mono No Aware have to do with the Assumption of Mary? Well let's take a closer look at the Assumption, and what Sacred Tradition says of it.

Eastern Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox hold a feast called The Dormition of Mary on August 13. The Dormition of Mary refers to the Tradition that Our Lady died and lay incorrupt in a tomb for three days before Her Assumption. There is a concern among the Eastern Orthodox that some Catholics, (sometimes called "Immortalists") reject the Dormition of Mary, and believe that Our Lady was simply Assumed by God into Heaven while She was still alive. However, this Immortalist position is in the minority and most Catholics, myself included, hold the Dormition Tradition to be true. Indeed, Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, Roman Catholic and great Marian Saint, firmly believed in the Dormition Tradition, beautiful portrays the scene in the following quotation:

"The life of Mary being now at its close, the most delicious music, as St. Jerome tells us, was heard in the room where she lay. According to a revelation of St. Bridget, the room was also filled with a brilliant light. This sweet music, and the unusual splendor, warned the holy apostles that Mary was then departing. This caused them to burst forth in tears and prayers again. Raising their hands, with one voice they exclaimed, “Mother, you’re already going to heaven! You’re leaving us! Give us your final blessing, and never forget us miserable creatures.” Mary, turning her eyes around upon all of them, as if to bid them a last farewell, said: “Goodbye, my children. I bless you. Don’t be afraid: I will never forget you.” Now death came—not, indeed, clothed in mourning and grief, as it does to others, but adorned with light and gladness. But what shall we say? Why speak of death? Let’s say rather that divine love came, and cut the thread of that noble life. Just as a light, before going out, gives a last and brighter flash than ever, so did this beautiful creature, on hearing her Son’s invitation to follow him, wrapped in the flames of love, and in the midst of her loving sighs, give a last sigh of still more ardent love. Then, breathing forth her soul, she died.

In this way was that great soul, that beautiful dove of the Lord, loosened from the bands of this life. In this way she entered into the glory of the blessed, where she is now seated, and will be seated, as queen of paradise, for all eternity. Mary, then, has left this world; she’s now in heaven. From there, this compassionate mother looks down upon us who are still in this valley of tears. She pities us and, if we desire it, she promises to help us. Let’s always beg her, by the merits of her blessed death, to obtain for us a happy death."

—St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary
When we contemplate this scene with mono no ware in mind, it appears that the Assumption is a subversion of mono no aware. The Dormition has all the sad beauty of mono no aware, yet concludes happily with the Assumption of Our Lady; these are the themes of the Assumption.

The Salve Regina prayer speaks of our time of on earth as, "mourning and weeping in the valley tears;" the Latin version of the Miraculous Medal prayer reads;

Regina sine labe originali concepta,
ora pro nobis!
which translates to:

Queen conceived without sin,
pray for us!
However notice the word used for Original Sin, not peccatum, but labis. (sine labe originali concepta...) In Latin, Labis means "subsidence" or "catastrophic decay," it brilliantly describes the state of our fallen world, everything is transient, nothing lasts forever, all is fading away in this fallen world. But Our Lord's Sacrifice on the Cross rendered Our Lady conceived without this original decay. Our Lady may have died, but Her body lay incorrupt and then was Assumed into Heaven and reunited with Her soul; now She lives forever. So too for those who remain Faithful to the end, I pray everyday that I'm among them; death is inevitable but one who entrusts oneself to God's Grace and Our Lady's intercession, will have Eternal Life not only in spirit in Heaven, but also in one's resurrected body in the World to Come.

Sit Gloria Dei
Regina sine labe originali concepta,
ora pro nobis!


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