In Orthodoxy as in Catholicism, today – August 15 – is the feast of the passing of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, into eternal life. Catholics call her the Assumption, because they believe she was “assumed” (carried up) to heaven at the end of her earthly days without tasting death; The Orthodox call it Dormition (falling asleep), because we Orthodox believe that she is dead, like any other human being. (A brief discussion explaining the theological distinctions between the Assumption and the Dormition can be found here; it has to do with the different ways the Christian East and Christian West think about original sin). Both traditions share the belief that God took Mary’s body to heaven, which is why there is no tomb for her anywhere in the world.
Here is the standard Orthodox icon for the Dormition. It shows Jesus Christ on his mother’s deathbed, receiving her body in his arms. The fact that Jesus received her body indicates that she in fact experienced death, like all humans; you wouldn’t see anything like it in a Catholic depiction of Saint Mary’s transition into eternity:
My son Matt left at 4:30 this morning for the airport, to return to Louisiana for his final year of undergraduate studies. I was so sleepy that I slept through the entire Orthodox liturgy for the feast, so instead I went to a nearby church just after noon to pray this akathist (like a cross between a hymn and a litany) at the Virgin on this great feast of her falling asleep. I had the place to myself, except for an occasional visitor who came to say a prayer.
Before going to church to pray, I had re-read a wonderful Orthodox book on Saint Paisios the Athonite and spiritual warfare, titled, The gurus, the young man and the elder Paisios. In it, the author recounts how he would visit the great elder of Mount Athos (Saint Paisios is to the Christian East what Saint Pio (“Padre Pio”) of Pietrelcina is to the Christian West), and the elder once gave him a prayer rope and taught him to say the Jesus prayer on it. The elder compared these prayers to firing “bullets” at demons. It reminded me of how, when I was a Catholic, I said the Rosary in the same spirit. Although I pray the Jesus Prayer on chotki, or prayer rope, now I recognize that the Rosary is a very powerful way to pray. I myself have experienced this several times.
So when I read this hysterical anti-Catholic screen against the rosary in Atlanticthe journal of middle-elite liberalism (yes, there is a middle-elite), my first thought was not outrage, but satisfaction: Good, the enemies of God know what they are dealing with. But my second thought is that this is a remarkable escalation in the culture of hatred against Christians and Christianity that the left is generating and perfecting. It is impossible to imagine that a magazine of AtlanticThe stature of would produce such a piece condemning a venerable prayer practice of any other religion. Here is how the magazine presents the piece on its website:
But then they changed the title after the reviews:
I don’t see a significant distinction, but I wanted to show that there had been this change. I would like to point out that AtlanticCopy editors are so religiously ignorant that they refer to the Rosary as a “sacrament”. It’s telling that you don’t even need to have the most basic knowledge of Catholic theology to edit and approve a piece comparing the rosary to an AR-15.
The article discusses how some fanatical right-wing Catholics have mixed Rosary devotion with gun culture, in a way that the author says crosses the line from the metaphorical to the literal. I wouldn’t say he’s completely wrong on that, but I would point out that people who think so are on the fringes of Catholicism, and by no means represent the vast majority of Catholics who pray the Rosary. But then, Daniel Panneton sees manifestations of the progressive ideas of demonology whenever he looks to the right. In this article by May, Panneton, a self-described “public historian” (whatever that means), uncovered what he sees as the white supremacist roots of Canada’s pro-life movement. Ah ha! Scratch a Canadian Catholic who prays her rosary for the life of unborn children, find a Klucker closet! So says Daniel Panneton, who also describes himself as a “researcher on hate” and who published an article in February in the Globe & Mail accusing protesting truckers of being in cahoots with anti-Semites, Islamophobes and, yes, white supremacists.
In his Atlantic play, Panneton writes:
Catholics learn to love and forgive their enemies, that to do otherwise is a sin. But the extremist understanding of spiritual warfare trumps this commandment. To fight Satan – whose influence in the world is, according to Catholic demonology, real and threatening – is to use violence for deliverance and redemption. The culture of the “battle beads” of spiritual warfare allows radical-mainstream Catholics to literally demonize their political opponents and to regard the use of armed force against them as sanctified. The sacramental rosary is not only a spiritual weapon, but a physical weapon.
Message to liberals and progressives who read the Atlantic: If you see a Catholic praying a rosary on the street, know that he probably stores weapons in his house, and will probably shoot you, as well as homosexuals, transgenders, Muslims, Jews, midgets, two-spirits, vegans, foot fetishists, and anyone who qualifies as the Sacred Other in the pantheon of the left.
OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much. The incomprehensible hostility that North American elites, especially media elites, have for Christianity allows them to publish such farrago of bigotry and madness, and think they are virtuous. Consider that in the Muslim world, the beard is an outward sign of inner piety; Penn’s Muslim adviser told The New York Times in 2011 that as a general rule, the more conservative you are as a Muslim, the more likely you are to have a beard. This article led a writer from the Middle East Forum, a site critical of Islam, to write an article explaining to people that “Muslim beards are auspicious”.
i wonder what Atlantic What if a writer approached his editors and offered to write an article about how Muslim men’s big beards are a clue that they might have terrorism on their minds? In fact, I don’t wonder at all. We know exactly What Atlantic would say – and they would be right to! Now, a longer, more thoughtful article on how things like beards and prayer beads, which have long been central to religious traditions, have been weaponized in political or cultural struggle, would be understandable. This is not at all what Panneton’s play is. This is pure ignorant scaremongering from a professional leftist who sees a threat everywhere to his right. Whether he realizes it or not, what he is doing is educating people to know who to hate, and to know that by seeing a sacred symbol of Catholics as a possible indicator of violent terrorist potential. The insinuation is extreme: Panneton cites a Catholic retailer’s sale of a replica of the World War I “battle beads” that the US government issued to Catholic badboys as a sinister sign.
The one to worry about is not Daniel Panneton. There will always be ideologues selling anti-Christian, anti-Catholic polemics. The one to worry about is Atlantic magazine which, by publishing such a shoddy and hysterical propaganda article, sets the stage for the persecution. They may not know what they are doing, but we have no excuse for not knowing.
In any case, if you are Catholic, you should take this as an involuntary sign of respect. The enemy knows what is what. Do you? They are afraid of the rosary. So pray to him – not to possess the libs (although that might be a fun side effect), but to strengthen the forces of Good in the spiritual battle raging all around us.
UPDATE: A Catholic friend who is a catechist writes:
Rod, I just saw your blog and started reading it. I noticed an error about Catholic teaching at the beginning, so I temporarily stopped reading it to inform you of the official teaching of the Catholic magisterium on whether Catholics should believe that Mary is dead.
Catholic teaching does not say whether she actually died, but many, if not most, Catholic theologians believe she actually died. The Catechism states, in relevant part, the following at #966: “…when the course of his earthly life was ended, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory…”. You will notice how this official teaching dodges the question of whether she is dead.
I have copied for you an article by Jimmy Akin on the Assumption from today’s site of the National Catholic Register to confirm this. Thanks for reporting on this story!
4) Does dogma force us to believe that Mary is dead?
It is the common teaching that Mary is dead. In his job, Fundamentals of Catholic dogmaLudwig Ott lists this teaching as Communion Sentia (Latin, “the most common opinion”).
Although it is the common understanding that Mary died, and although her death is mentioned in some of the sources that Pius XII quoted in Munificentissimus Deushe deliberately refrained from defining this as a truth of faith. John Paul II noted:
On November 1, 1950, when defining the dogma of the Assumption, Pius XII avoided using the term “resurrection” and did not take a position on the question of the death of the Blessed Virgin as a truth of faith.
The bull Munificentissimus Deus limits itself to affirming the elevation of the body of Mary to celestial glory, declaring this truth a “divinely revealed dogma”.
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Thank you for the clarification!
UPDATE.2: Wow, they removed the bullet hole rosary graphic: