This week in Madonna House was dominated by the event at the end of the week, namely the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15. This is, next to Christmas and Easter, the great liturgical feast of our year, and we do it up right and proper.
That, of course, means that the bulk of the week is spent in preparing to do it up right and proper, as that takes a lot of work. In all corners of MH there was cooking, cleaning, decorating and general fuss and bustle, especially as the day drew near.
Meanwhile, of course, there is quite a bit of other work going on: the farm continues to harvest the early crops--garlic and green beans and broccoli coming in this week--and the shops continue to be busy. A whole new crew of guests came in for the week, which is fairly standard for this time of year, and it is worth noting that we have had a plethora of priest guests with us this summer, which is not always the case and is lovely. A theme I noted this week was that quite a number of guests showed up coming from great distances (Texas, Louisiana, Nebraska) and only staying for one week. That always amazes me.
Back to August 15. This is the feast where we 'say it with flowers', partly because of an ancient legend where the apostles found Mary's tomb full of flowers but otherwise Mary-less, but also because it is the one great feast of the year that comes when the gardens are in full bloom. So we were quite grateful for the rain earlier in the week which broke a small drought we'd been having, and perked up the posies, so to speak.
So... we have flowers. Hanging baskets all over the dining room. A garland adorning the icon of Our Lady in the chapel. And, on the day itself, corsages made by the men for each woman here (that's a lotta corsages, folks). This latter is because we understand that this feast represents a great divine statement on the dignity, the beauty, and the exaltation of the feminine. Mary, the Woman, is raised above the angels, made the first sharer in the resurrection of Christ. A woman is the pattern of redeemed and glorified humanity, and there is much theological and spiritual meaning in that fact. And so we honour our sisters in this small but very meaningful way by adorning them with pretty flowers from our gardens.
How else do we celebrate? The evening before the feast we had the Akathist hymn to Our Lady, an Eastern service of prayer that is roughly comparable to the litany of Our Lady with some elements of the rosary (it goes through the events of the Incarnation in a meditative way). I will be sharing verses from the Akathist this coming week on the blog, as they are rich in Marian meaning, and I want to reflect on that some more in this season. The service as we do it involve everyone forming little groups of four or five singers who go up to the icon and chant the different verses in turn. Strong singers, weak singers--it doesn't matter, as we are all Mary's children, and what mother doesn't delight in having her child sing to her?
The following day we had the Byzantine liturgy. Speaking of the aforementioned number of priest guests in MH, the rather tiny sanctuary of our chapel (the priests in that liturgy are behind the iconostasis in the holy of holies) was filled like a rush hour subway car, which had its amusing and challenging aspect. But everyone outdid themselves in celebrating a beautiful liturgy - the schola was in fine voice, and everyone was turned out in their best clothes and countenances and joyful spirit.
August 15 is also the day when we honor our jubilarians, since it was in fact our promises day for quite a few years. There were five celebrating 25 years and two celebrating 50. While I have the firm policy of not mentioning names on this blog, those who know MH will understand who I mean when I say that the layman celebrating his 50th chose to do so by getting up extra early and baking sweet buns for our festive brunch. In the evening, he and the his laywoman classmate shared with us their memories and insights from their many years of MH life. The woman spoke movingly of her experience of opening our house in Magadan, Russia back in the early 90s.
August 15th is also the day when it is customary for new applicants to be announced, those who will begin the process of formation and discernment on September 8. We continue to grow as a family, and so two women and two men were named yesterday as the applicants for this year. They will join the five now entering their second year of formation to make a total of nine--not bad in these vocation-light days in our church. Alleluia!
Well, there's quite a lot else happening these days in MH, but that's the main stuff for now. It was a week of great joy and work, a week of great thanksgiving and heart-piercing beauty, all wrapped up in the ordinary labours and trials of life.